Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Anthropologie Home Picks

I'm teaming up with some great bloggers today for a $150 Anthropologie givaway!

Anthropologie is one of my favorite shops and always my first stop when I head home to visit my mom in Greensboro.  I absolutely adore everything in their home line, and they even recently started a wedding registry as well.  Here are a few of my favorites - good luck and happy shopping!
Christine // Kelly
Magen // Tabitha
Margo // Christina
Kippy // Sarah 
Jessie // Sara
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Toasted Coconut Cupcakes

When I was brainstorming new recipes for the blog this week, I almost completely forgot Easter was sneaking up just next weekend! How could I forget? Now ya'll know by now I love a good theme, so I knew I wanted to make something that included candy eggs, peeps, … or maybe both! And so, Toasted Coconut Cupcakes were born. 

I'm on a bit of a coconut kick lately (it's great in Energy Balls), but lightly toasting the coconut flakes in the oven takes the flavor and texture to a whole new level. 

Because I started with a boxed cake mix, these couldn't be faster or easier to put together.  You could even use store bought icing and add a touch of coconut extract if your heart desires, but I do prefer making my own. 

*1 box white cake mix (and ingredients listed on the box  - likely 1/4 c. vegetable oil, 3 egg whites)
*3/4 tsp. coconut extract (or 'imitation coconut'), divided*
*2 sticks butter, at room temperature
*4 oz. cream cheese (1/2 a block), at room temperature
*1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
*1 c. sweetened coconut
Optional decorations: candy eggs, peeps 

Prepare the packaged cake mix as instructed, and add in 1/2 tsp. coconut extract.  Bake as cupcakes in a lined pan.  After the cupcakes are done, set aside to cool on a wire rack.  Arrange coconut flakes on a sheet pan and bake at 350 for 8-10 minutes, stirring once, or until lightly toasted. 

To prepare the frosting, cream together butter and cream cheese.  Add remaining coconut extract and powdered sugar and beat until smooth. 

Frost the cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with toasted coconut around the edges.  Add candy eggs or peeps in the center.  Enjoy! 

*These cupcakes have a mild coconut flavor.  For a stronger coconut taste, increase the amount of coconut extract in the batter to 1 tsp..  For the frosting, taste and add more to preference.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wilmington Restaurant Round-Up

People are often asking me where I like to eat around town.  With tourist season on the horizon, I thought i'd round up my favorites for locals and also any upcoming visitors!  This list includes everything from date night favorites to quick lunch spots.  I'll continue to updates to the list as I discover new places - so check back in the YE Living section in the header above for new spots! 

Near Wrightsville, semi-formal, French bistro food
Order the: Filet Bordelaise, Macaroni and Cheese, Brasserie Burgers, Profiteroles, Roast Chicken

Why I love it:  Brasserie is my go-to date night spot.  Always reliable with great atmosphere and reasonably priced considering the quality of food.  Great, inexpensive house wines by the carafe. The same person also owns the OC, Boca Bay, Circa 1922, and Towne.  

Downtown, fairly casual, southern classics
Order the: Fried Green Tomatoes, Parmesan Pesto Salmon, Goat Cheese Crusted Filet (substitute risotto for the mashed potatoes - you won't regret it!), Half Bird

Why I love it: The Basics has the most amazing date night deal, and they offer it EVERY night. For $65, you can get 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 desserts, AND a BOTTLE of wine (no, seriously).  The appetizer portions are slightly smaller, but I love that you get 2 because it is always so hard to choose one.

Near wrightsville, semi-formal, mostly tapas and small plates
Order the: Candied Bacon Pops, Stuffed Dates, Seared Scallops

Why I love it: This is a great spot for ladies night (if you have a husband like mine who doesn't like 'small food').  I love going with a big group and ordering half the menu.  The restaurant is an extension of Taste the Olive, a great shop with a variety of olive oils and balsamic vinegars.  I haven't been yet, but every so often they host a dog friendly night outdoors!

Near Wrightsville, semi-formal, some tapas, sushi, seafood, brunch buffet on Sundays
Order the: Calamari, Mussels, Crab Dip, Spring Rolls

Why I love it: Boca Bay is famous for their epic brunch buffet.  Reasonably priced at $16, the buffet has everything you can imagine, from crisp bacon, fresh biscuits, homemade pastries, bagels, grits, to omelette stations and waffle bars.  For dinner, check out their $5 bar menu (everyday), and try to coordinate with half-priced wine night (Wednesday).  You can't beat that deal - with spring rolls, lettuce wraps, calamari, mussels, and more. 

Market street, semi-formal or casual (there is a lot of variety in Wilmington!), gourmet seafood
Order the: Sweet Potato Salad, Miso Salmon with Drunken Noodles, Firecracker Shrimp

Why I love it:  James Beard nominee Keith Rhodes always comes through with innovative dishes. The atmosphere seems casual compared to the quality of food.  Be sure to make a reservation - they fill up fast!  Avoid non-seafood dishes, this isn't a place to take land-lubbers. 

Near Wrightsville, semi-formal, local cuisine, lots of variety in the menu
Order the: Crabcake with Green Goddess Dressing, Lobster Mac and Cheese, Shake & Bake fries, Cowboy Steak, Caesar Salad

Why I love it: PLG is a special occasion restaurant for us, but it doesn't necessarily have to be.  We go all out, but they do have a large variety of inexpensive options, including a simple grill and also a small plates menu.  Mike loves the Cowboy Steak, and I like to get the crab cake appetizer (served over lima beans with bacon and a great sauce) and splurge on the lobster mac. 

Mid-Town, casual, seafood
Order the: Buffalo Shrimp (big portion!), New Bedford Scallops

Why I love it: A Wilmington classic.  I think because this restaurant is off the beaten path, they can afford to offer reasonably priced options.  The seafood is always super fresh and the portions are very generous.  The menu is classic, nothing too crazy, just good quality basics. 

Near Downtown, Casual, Thai/Vietnamese
Order the: Happy Asian Melody, Dumpling Sampler, Shrimp & Pineapple Curry

Why I love it: Great atmosphere, and a great spot to take out of town visitors.  Indochine is almost always packed, so head there early (I don't think they take reservations unless you have a large party).  On a nice night you can sit in a private hut in their gorgeous garden.  My personal favorite is the Happy Asian Melody, which is a mixture of beef, chicken, scallops, and shrimp, tossed with lots of vegetables in a savory brown sauce. My curry-loving friends enjoy the shrimp and pineapple, but there are quite a few to choose from. 

In Mayfaire, casual
Order the: Nachos! Turkey Club, Fried Zucchini Chips,  

Why I love it: Did I say Nachos?  I always get my own order as my meal.  Add the pulled chicken on top of the crispy chips with fresh guacamole, pico, homemade queso and jalapeños.  Mike loves the turkey club and burgers. Stick to the pub food. 

Multiple locations (Tower 7, Las Olas, Oleander and Porters Neck locations - some slight variation in menus), casual, Mexican
Order the: Prickly Pear Margarita, Queso, Street Corn, Fajitas

Why I love it: There is no better salsa.  Try to resist filling up on chips (impossible), and enjoy nightly weeknight specials.  We love to go on half priced fajita night, dollar taco night (always super busy though), and half priced quesadilla night.  Quesadilla night is usually the least expensive because there is also a half priced miller-lite special!  

Multiple locations (downtown, Wrightsville, Monkey Junction), very casual
Order the: Amsterdam, Plymouth, Marseille, or any others!

Why I love it:  Gourmet deli sandwiches, with daily mac and cheese flavors and also soups.  You can't beat the quality or creativity.  I love the Plymouth (turkey, apples, havarti, cranberry relish) when I'm in the mood for a cold sanwchich, and the Amsterdam (pot roast, melted cheddar, mushroom gravy) when I want something warm and comforting. 

Downtown, very casual
Order the: Spanikopita (big!), Souvlaki, Gyro

Why I love it:  A quick, delicious, and inexpensive lunch or dinner.  Authentic Greek food and you can't beat their Tzatziki. 

Multiple Locations, Sushi, Hibachi, casual
Order the: Bento box, Shrimp Avocado Roll, Green Bean Fries, Teriyaki Chicken

Why I love it: Our go-to Sushi spot.  Each location has different specials and also specialties, with the Mayfair location offering great Hibachi.  We enjoy the Oleander location often, with an extensive half-priced menu before 6. The menu is huge, with everything from burgers and sandwiches, to a traditional Sushi menu.  

Mid-Town, casual, Italian
Order the: Spaghetti & Meatballs, Meatball Tower, Pizza, Cheesecake

Why I love it: This is our go-to pizza spot.  We sometimes have them deliver, but also venture to the restaurant quite often.  The food is very reasonably priced and you can bring your own wine (no cork fee!) since they don't have a license to sell alcohol.  In the restaurant you'll be greeted with buttery garlic knots.  Our favorite appetizer is the meatball tower, a giant meatball in their amazing red sauce over cool ricotta, served with crusty garlic bread.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Creamy Peanut Butter Slaw

I know it's sort of a bizarre thing to say, but I am on a major cabbage kick lately.  I'm loving the crunchy texture in salads, on tacos, or even sautéed with pasta.  

Conveniently, one of my favorite prepared products at these grocery store is bagged slaw mix.  Not the type that comes with any sort of dressing, just the chopped mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage, and shredded carrots. Whipping up a gourmet slaw couldn't be easier when you get to eliminate all of the cabbage prep work! 

This creamy, somewhat spicy, and super flavorful slaw is not only delicious, but also very healthy.  The dressing is inspired by a recipe by Geoffrey Zakarian (my favorite star of the Kitchen) that I actually saw in Weight Watchers magazine.  I enjoyed this slaw as a side, but it would be great as a topping for an asian-inspired pulled pork or beef taco. 

*1 (14 oz) bag prepared slaw mix (red, green cabbage, and carrots)
*1/2 c. nonfat greek yogurt
*1/4 c. creamy peanut butter (I used reduced fat)
*1/4 c. unseasoned rice wine vinegar
*2 tsp. sriracha (or more if you like the heat)
*2 tsp. light sesame oil
*1 tsp. honey
*optional garnishes: cilantro, chopped scallions

In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, peanut butter, rice vinegar, sriracha, sesame oil, and honey, until smooth.  Add dressing to slaw mix and toss to combine.  Garnish with cilantro and chopped scallions, if desired.  Chill until ready to serve.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Guinness Beef & Cheddar Hand Pies

Confession: I know next to nothing about Irish food.  From my googles I can tell that there are a lot of potatoes and beef involved, which I can certainly get on board with.

This year, my office is hosting our second annual St. Patrick's Day pot-luck.  As a food blogger, you can imagine that there is quite a bit of pressure on me.  Last year I brought Iced Irish Coffee, which was super simple. This year, I thought seriously about bringing Hash Brown Casserole (I mean, there are potatoes?), but fortunately over the weekend the right recipe came to me: Guinness Beef and Cheddar Pies.

If there's one thing I do know, it's that braised beef is the bomb.  Stout braised beef in a pocket of buttery pastry, bursting at the seems with ooey-gooey cheddar cheese?  It's so right it's wrong. 

Mike and I enjoyed these for dinner with a simple salad, and i'll be making a mini version for work on the big day.  

Ingredients (Makes 8 hand pies):
*1 (2.4 lb.) rump roast
*1 onion, chopped
*2 garlic cloves, minced
*1-2 tbsp. olive oil
*1 tbsp. butter
*2 tbsp. flour
*1 (11.2 oz.) bottle Guinness Draught
*1 (14.5 oz) can beef stock
*2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
*2 tbsp. spicy brown mustard
*4 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
*1 egg
*salt, pepper

Preheat the oven to 350. Heat a large dutch oven over medium high.  Slice the beef into five equal portions (this will help it cook faster).  Add 1 tbsp. olive oil and butter to the pan and seer the beef in a single layer (work in batches if necessary).  When the beef is nicely browned, set aside on a plate.  

If the pan is dry, add the second tablespoon of olive oil.  Reduce heat to medium low, add onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until lightly browned and soft. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or so until fragrant.  Stir in the flour and cook, stirring continuously, for 2 minutes.  

Add in the Guinness and beef broth and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.  Season lightly with salt (keep in mind the beef broth and cheddar cheese have salt) and pepper. Cover the beef with a tight fitting lid and transfer to the oven.  Cook until fork tender, 2-2.5 hours. 

When the beef is done, increase the oven temperature to 400.  Use two forks to shred the beef in the pan. 

Before assembling the pies, place mustard in a small bowl and have a brush ready.  Beat the egg in a separate bowl with 1 tbsp. water.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Flour your works surface and a rolling pin generously.  Roll out puff pastry to a 11X11 square , and cut into 4 equal squares.  Brush the edges of each square with mustard.  Use a slotted spoon to remove meat from the pan and drain off as much liquid as possible. Add 2-3 tbsp. of beef onto one side of each square, and top the beef with a thin slice of cheddar.  Gently fold over the pastry* and use a fork to crimp the edges together.  Transfer to the parchment lined cookie sheet. Brush with egg wash, then transfer to the oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden.  Let cool 5 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!

*If your squares turn out uneven, don't worry!  Just fold over any excess dough before crimping the edges. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cheesy Hash Brown Casserole

Hash Brown casserole has to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures.  I tend to judge breakfast places by the quality and crispiness of their hash browns (shredded only please!), but if they have hash brown casserole?  Winner in my book.

When my sisters came to visit last weekend, I wanted to have breakfast at home and was trying to think of something I could make in advance, just in case I was accidentally over-served the night before.  After hunting for hash brown casserole recipes online, I found that every single one had canned soup in it.  No thanks!

 Instead of embracing the canned soup method, I decided to try making a version using a basic roux, and switched up part of the milk for chicken stock to get that subtle flavor that is familiar in recipes that use canned soup.  The results? O.M.Gosh. So tasty, and so easy! This is going to be a go-to for me when I have guests in town.  I made it the day before and it was perfectly delicious the next morning. Just wait to add the cornflake crust at the last minute so they don't get soggy in the refrigerator.

*1 small onion, finely chopped
*5 tbsp. butter, divided, plus more for the pan
*4 tbsp. flour
*1 c. chicken stock
*1 c. milk (I used 2%)
*2 c. freshly grated extra sharp cheddar
*1 lb. shredded potatoes (I used Simply Potatoes from the refrigerator section)
*2 c. cornflakes
*salt, pepper

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook 4-5 minutes, or until soft.  Stir in the flour and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously.  Add in the chicken stock and milk and whisk until smooth.  Bring this mixture to a gentle boil and continue to whisk until thickened (2-3 minutes).  Remove from the heat and add in cheddar cheese.  Continue to stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth, then stir in the shredded potatoes.  

Butter a 9X13 casserole dish.  Spread the potatoes evenly in the dish.  At this point, cool completely, then cover and refrigerate if you are making this in advance.  When ready to bake, crush cornflakes into medium crumbs. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the microwave, then stir the butter into the crumbs until they are evenly coated.  Spread the crumb mixture on top of the casserole and bake at 375 for 35 minutes, or until golden and bubbly around the edges.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Weekend Update

Happy Monday all! I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend and had the chance to enjoy some beautiful weather like we did in Wilmington. My two sisters came to town for the weekend and we had an absolute blast. 

Friday night we went to the Azalea Festival Spring Soiree (formerly known as the pre-festival party).   They switched it up this year and it felt like  a totally different event.  I've always loved the event, but it's almost like there was a fresh new energy.  The food was much more interesting, there was new decor, and the music was fantastic.  

Thanks to my sister Sara, the official family photographer!

Saturday afternoon we laid low and watched the State game at the house.  I made hash brown casserole for breakfast (recipe coming soon!) and it turned out so, so good.  That held us over most of the morning, then we decided an early afternoon happy hour was in order. 

Saturday night was ladies night in honor of my sister Sara's birthday.  Her friend Jessica drove down from Raleigh and we had some fun cocktails at 1900 before dinner. 

Dinner was at Sara's favorite restaurant, Catch. There are so many interesting menu items but it's hard for me to sway from my favorite, the Miso Salmon.  It comes with the most amazing drunken noodles! We also tried the Firecracker Shrimp and a delicious Sweet Potato Salad. 

Sara wanted a picture with Chef Keith Rhodes - what a nice guy!  We will definitely be going back. 

Cheers to a great week!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

I think a miracle is about to happen. The forecast for Wednesday in Wilmington is predicting 72 glorious degrees!  I just can't believe it.  It has been such a cold, bitter winter.  Granted, I shouldn't complain because it's not like i'm in Boston or anything, but man, I need spring in my life.  I think the weather has bothered me more than usual since I have a little pup to walk 10 times a day now!

Sadly, the frigid air and rain will be creeping back in Thursday, so make yourself a comforting bowl of this spicy Mexican Chicken Lime Soup, and I promise you'll be warmed from the inside out. 

I just love the combination of tangy lime with the spicy adobo, along with the cool hit of Greek yogurt (which I use in place of sour cream) and a bite of creamy avocado. Feel free to adjust the spice level by adding more or less adobo sauce or chipotles.  

*3 tbsp. olive oil
*1 small onion, diced
*3 garlic cloves, minced
*4 chicken boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1.75-2 lb.)
*6 c. chicken stock
*1-2 chipotles, chopped, from a can of chipotles in adobo
*1-2 tsp. adobo sauce 
*3 tbsp. chopped cilantro
*1 avocado, sliced
*1 lime
*sour cream or Greek yogurt, for serving (optional)
*tortilla chips, for serving (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot over medium high.  Add garlic and onion and sauté until lightly browned, 3-4 minutes.  Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and add the chicken.  Brown chicken on both sides, then add the chipotle and adobo sauce (one to two, depending on spice preference; you can always add more at the end).  Add chicken stock and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken from the pot, shred it, and return it to the soup.  Stir in cilantro and juice of one lime.  Serve with crushed tortilla strips, avocado slices, and sour cream.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Peanut Butter Energy Balls

Happy Monday all!  I'm feeling rested and rejuvenated after a beautiful weekend with two of my best friends at Figure 8 Island.  While I was staying at my BFF Magen's house, she told me about these amazing energy balls she makes. 

I typically eat very healthy throughout the day during the work week, but lately there has been so much temptation everywhere I turn.  Whether it's someone's birthday, or bagels, or donuts, there is always something in my office and I find it really hard to resist when I get a craving for an afternoon sweet. 

As Magen promised, these Energy Balls are the perfect afternoon pick-me-up, and feel like an indulgent treat.  I often reach for a spoonful of peanut butter as soon as I get home from work, but these Energy Balls are a great alternative with added fiber and healthy sweetness. 

Have one or two for breakfast, or like me, as a quick afternoon snack.  They take all of five minutes to stir together and keep well in the refrigerator.  

*1 c. oats
* 1/2. c. peanut butter (I used reduced fat)
*2/3 c. shredded coconut (I used unsweetened)
*1/3 c. honey
*2 tbsp. mini chocolate chips
*1 tsp. vanilla
*1 tsp. cinnamon

Stir together all ingredients.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then roll into 12 equal balls.  Store in the refrigerator.  Enjoy!