Friday, July 27, 2012

Found Friday

Today, I am introducing one of the new weekly features on my blog: Found Friday. While I love to experiment in the kitchen, and spend a great deal of time testing my own recipes or modifying old family ones... I often run across recipes and ideas from other sources that get the old go-round in my kitchen.

Whether it's a cookbook that has been dog-earred, stained, and has notes all over the margins or a trat from a fellow foodie blogger, this is where I will share it. Found Fridays will be all about those discovered little treasures that have found their way into my kitchen battery. This is not a place where you will find Pinterest shares. Pinterest will find its own place on here in the coming days. But, for now, on to FOUND FRIDAY...

Today's finding is brought to you by Kichen PLAY and CUTCO cutlery. If you haven't yet stumbled upon Kitchen PLAY, it's a fabulously inspiring little site from the creator of Taste Stopping (a humorous poke at the elitist foodie sites such as TasteSpotting, FoodGawker, etc., publishing only rejected food snaps). I adore both sites.

Every month, Kichen PLAY hosts a "progressive party." An online potluck of sorts. Six food bloggers are selected to create either a cocktail, amuse bouche, salad, appetizer/soup, entree, or dessert. Here's the catch: each blogger is challenged to incorporate the same product or kitchen tool in creating their dish. Then, readers are invited to play along in a sort of "blog hop," if you will, and recreate one of the featured recipes.

This month's sponsor is CUTCO cutlery. 6 bloggers were given the challenge of using their cutlery to slice and dice their way to success in this month's delectable creations. While I have no experience with CUTCO's product, I have heard nothing but wonderful things about their product line! And, winners of this month's progressive party will win a CUTCO Salad Mates gift set!

After scanning through my choices, I decided to recreate the Summer Ceviche from Aggie's Kitchen.

Ceviche is one of those refreshing summer dishes that I often enjoy at some of my favorite beach restaurants during our many trips up and down the Carolina coasts. But, I've never tried to make it at home. I was always fascinated by the idea that the citrus juices actually "cooked" the fish, but never delighted in actually observing the process. This was my perfect opportunity! I made a few adjustments to her recipe, but not many. Here you go:

Summer Ceviche
1 lb fresh halibut, cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 red onion, diced small

1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 C fresh lemon juice (about 2-3 lemons)
1/4 C fresh lime juice (about 3-4 limes)
Pinch of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1/2 red pepper, diced small
2 jalapenos, diced small
Bunch of cilantro, coarsely chopped
Juice from 1 lime
Drizzle of olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
Melba toast rounds and table water crackers, for serving

Start off by juicing the lemons and limes. I highly recommend a hand-juicer if you don't already have one. It makes quick work of juicing the citrus, and maximizes the quantity of your juice.

Halibut was the star of this recipe not by choice, but rather by accident. I sent the Mr. to the store with a very specific list of ingredients to procure for that night's dinner. On that list? 1 pound of flounder. Readily available, inexpensive, delicious FLOUNDER. What did I get instead? Halibut. Don't get me wrong... having spent many years in Alaska, I love me some halibut! Back in Alaska, halibut is plentiful. And, cheap. There's a reason it is referred to as "poor man's lobster." My parents usually have a deep-freeze full from summer fishing trips. Never in my life have I paid $25 for ONE pound of halibut. But, in light of the fact that the flounder was completely intact, just without a pulse... the Mr. decided I would be better off with a headless, scaleless, skinless fillet. The only whit fish on ice that fit that bill? $25 per pound halibut. Crazy man. At that price, I'll happily skin and decapitate any other fish! But, the halibut was delicious, so I digress...

To prepare the ceviche, combine fish, red onion, shallot and garlic in lg bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover completely with citrus juices, and toss gently to combine.

Cover bowl, and refrigerate for 2 1/2 hours (stirring halfway through) until fish is white and "cooked" through.

To prepare the salad, use a slotted spoon to move the fish mixture to a new bowl (leaving behind the citrus juices). Add the red pepper, jalapenos, and cilantro to the bowl. Dress with lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Gently stir to combine. Serve with melba toast rounds and table water crackers.

This is makes for some light, delicious summer fare that even the pickiest of kids will love. Trust me... mine licked their plates clean!

If you want to participate in this month's progressive party, you still have until July 31 to get those kitchen creations posted. You can find the participatinghere blog posts here and the official rules here

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Next Food Network Star: Challenge #6

No, no, no... I haven't quit blogging again. We've just been a little bit busy doing a little bit of this...

And, a little bit of that...

And, this too...

But, more on that later. With all the getting hitched, family visits, and honeymoon business... I've fallen a bit behind on The Next Food Network Star challenges. Since the show is almost over, I'll finish posting the couple of challenges that I already completed, and set the project aside until next season. Next time, we'll be up and running on premiere night... not like this year's late start. Not to worry, I've been cooking up a storm since we've gotten back from Alaska. I have lots to share, and plenty of future plans for the blog to include weekly features that will debut this week. So, stay tuned! 

Tonight is the final episode of this season's Next Food Network Star. Fingers crossed, and all bets are on for my fave, Justin Warner to bring it home tonight. In the meantime... here's the first of two installments of my remaining completed challenges:

For episode 6, we tuned in while the teams competed against each other to elevate the cuisine of typical food court fare. Team Alton: an Italian-themed booth. Team Giada: a Mexican-themed service. And, Team Bobby Flay: an American deli style menu. 

According to Food Network, here is the synopsis for episode 7...

Ten finalists remain to compete for the title of Food Network Star. This week, each finalist must elevate iconic food-court food while adapting to the limitations of a kiosk. The challenge is taken to another level when they learn they'll be feeding Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian in addition to 150 hungry shoppers! Tensions mount as Zakarian provides an Iron Chef-worthy secret ingredient that the finalists will have to incorporate in their dishes.

Per our usual random selection, I came up with the challenge of creating a dish for the classic American deli. And, what deli menu would be complete without a side of fries to go with those delectable sandwiches? These are the French fries to end ALL French fries!

Inspired by a dish discovered at the Alaska State Fair many, many years ago... I present to you peanut potatoes!

I grew up mostly in Texas, having moved to Alaska only right before my sophomore year in high school. Alaska, with its breath-taking scenery, is a magnificent place to visit. Although, with its long, cold, dark winters... it is up for debate on its ranking as a desireable place to live full-time. Obviously, summer is the ideal time to visit. And, if you can manage a trip right at the end of summer, you can count yourself lucky enough to have a stab at a trip to the state fair. Living there, the state fair becomes a rather stale event year after year. Not much changes. Same food booths. Same craft vendors. Same 1,000 pound cabbage contest. But, there is one booth that made the journey worth it every time: the peanut potato food truck. This is one of the elusive booths that only graces the presence of the fairway every couple of years. It is a booth, upon which its sole participation, determines whether we even make the long trek from Anchorage to Palmer on any given year. 

Fingerling potatoes are fairly easy to come by in the south. Every summer, you will be able to find a choice of red, white, even purple fingerling potatoes up for purchase. In Alaska? Not so much. These buttery, flavorful spuds were an oddity to come across up in the last frontier. Until I moved to North Carolina, I was never able to duplicate this recipe on my own. But, now that I can... they are a regular on our summer BBQ menus. And, let me tell you... the put your run-of-the mill French fries to shame!

Peanut Potatoes
2 (1 lb) bags fingerling potatoes
Peanut oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
Dried parsley
1 med tub sour cream
1 (.4 oz) pkg ranch dressing mix
1 pkg real bacon bits

Fingerling potatoes, although only the length of a finger (hence the name), are fully matured when harvested. They have thin skins which are ideal to remain intact during cooking. Low in starch, with a waxy texture, they make for a smooth buttery treat once cooked. Look at these beautiful little taters...

Start by cutting up your potatoes. If the fingeling spuds are small enough, halving them is good enough. But if you end up with a bag of rather large guys, go ahead and quarter them. My selection was small enough to halve.

You'll need a deep fat fryer for these. Admittedly, I purchased mine SOLEY for making peanut potatoes. But trust me... once you have one, you won't know how you ever lived without it! Fill the fryer up with peanut oil (canola oil if you have food allergies). Heat the oil up to 375*, and begin frying the potatoes in batches. You will be able to tell when the potatoes are done frying. They will reach a nice golden brown, and float to the top of the oil.

While your potatoes are frying, go ahead and whip up your baked potato dip. Empty the sour cream into a mixing bowl. Add your ranch dressing mix and bacon bits. Stir to combine.

When the potatoes are done, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the fryer. Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Once drained and slightly cooled, sprinkle with kosher salt, freshly ground pepper and parsley. Serve with a side of baked potato dip to scoop up with those tasty taters!

Did you know that, if Belgian hisotrians had it their way, we wouldn't even know French fries by their current moniker? The Belgians insist that originated the fried potato. They would have us believe that it was American soldiers, arriving in Belgium during WWI that accidentally branded them as "French fries" for evermore. What the Americans had sampled were actually Belgium fries, but as a result of French being the official language of the Belgian army at the time... Americans coined these tasty fried treats "French fries."

Either way, trust me when I tell you... these peanut potatoes are unlike any French fry you have ever popped in your mouth. The texture of fingerling potatoes is smooth and buttery. And, that dip... oh that dip! These are heavenly little treats! Serve up with your favorite sandwich or burger, and you'll be on the hunt for fingerling potatoes to accompany EVERY summer meal!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Next Food Network Star: Challenge #2

Between wedding stuff, visiting relatives, honeymoon preparations, and an insane amount of house cleaning... things have been busy around here for the past couple of weeks. So, please excuse the tardy posts. We're still playing the catch-up game with Next Food Network Star challenges. We're back to Challenge #2: The Food Tour of New York. The contestants toured infamous foodie spots around New York, took what they learned, created their own dish, then served up the dish with a side of drive-by history on a food tour of the city. Here is the official synopsis per Food Network's website...

This week's challenge is a food tour of New York! The finalists are split into three teams and will each take a busload of tourists on a tour of three different New York neighborhoods. How entertaining are they? What landmarks will they highlight? How much food knowledge do they impart? Then each finalist will have to prepare and serve a dish to the judges based on the research they do in the neighborhoods.

While we don't live in New York City, we have our own realtively famous culinary stomping grounds: Raleigh/Durham, NC. A couple of weeks ago, while visiting the Durham Farmers' Market, we came across the motherload of food trucks. One, in particular, struck my fancy... the chicken and waffles truck. What true southerner doesn't love their chicken and waffles? Unfortunately, the next weekend... after I set out upon completing this challenge, the truck wasn't there. Ahhh... but, Durham is host to the next best thing (or perhaps the first best thing): Dame's Chicken and Waffles

The Mr. and I visited the restaurant on a Saturday afternoon with every intention of talking to the staff, learning a little bit about their history, and getting a belly-full of delicious chicken and waffles. Unfortunately, that wasn't what happened AT ALL. I use Yelp! all the time to read reviews on local restaurants, and find new places to visit. This was the only time I actually felt the need to create a Yelp! account solely for the purpose of reviewing a restaurant. 

Since Dame's was featured in Southern Living, it has become quite to popular dining destination... understandably so. We walked in the door, and were immediately asked if we had a reservation. No, we didn't. But, the Mr. inquired if we could make one and wait. The hostess simply turned our back to us, leaving us standing there slightly befuddled. Another couple walked in the door, stated they didn't have a reservation, and asked if they could eat at the bar. No problem. The hostess seated them immediately. Another host was left at the podium, and again we asked if we could make a reservation. He stared blankly at us, then turned around and walked off. Okay. That was enough. We abruptly left the restaurant. So, while Dame's might have the best chicken and waffles around... we'll never know. The horrid service was such an incredible turn-off... we will never frequent the steps of that restaurant again. But, that didn't stop me from concocting my own chicken and waffles recipe at home! A little spicy, a little crunchy, a whole lotta' flavor... I present to you Clucks-N-Quilts! A buffalo wings/pigs in a blanket-inspired chicken and waffles dish:

For salad:
5 celery stalks, finely chopped (plus more stalks, sliced for serving)
1 lg dill pickle, finely chopped (I prefer Claussen brand)
1 med shallot, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
1/2 C bleu good-quality cheese dressing (plus more for serving)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste

For chicken:
Canola oil
1 pkg chicken tenderloins
1 bottle hot wing sauce (I prefer Texas Pete)
1 1/2 C Bisquick
1 1/2 C panko bread crumbs
2 tsp paprika

For waffles:
4 eggs, separated
2 C whole milk
1 bottle Tobasco sauce
2/3 C unsalted butter, melted
5 oz container bleu cheese crumbles
1/3 C parsley, minced
2 1/3 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt

Go ahead and put your tenderloins in a plastic Ziplock bag, cover with buffalo wing sauce and refrigerate while marinating for 1-2 hours. You can start the salad now too. It can be refrigerated for a while during your chicken and waffle making. Start by finely chopping your celery and dill pickle.

Then, dice your shallot and garlic cloves.

Add celery, pickle, shallot, and garlic in a med bowl with the bleu cheese dressing and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Toss to coat. Cover, and refrigerate.

Prior to creating this recipe, I laughed at the thought of owning a waffle maker. It seemed like a kitchen frivolity. After all... how often would I really use it? Let me tell you... if all I used it for was this recipe... it was worth every penny I paid for it. So, let's get started on those waffles! Preheat your waffle maker, and preheat your oven to 200* (to keep the waffles warm while you finish the rest of the batch). And, go ahead and get your canola oil heated up for the chicken. If you have a fryer... set it at 375*, otherwise heat the oil in a skillet on the stove. Back to the waffles... in a lg bowl, whick together egg yolks, milk, butter, cheese, Tobasco and parsley. Over a sheet of waxed paper, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the yolk mixture; whisk until smooth. In a stand mixer (or in a bowl with a hand mixer), whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Use a spatula to fold egg whites into batter mixture. Pour batter into waffle maker, close and cook until crisp and golden (about 5-6 min). Transfer waffles to wire rack in oven to keep warm.

On to your chicken! Sift the Bisquick and paprika into a shallow bowl. Add the panko crumbs, and toss to combine. Working in batches, dredge your marinated tenderloins in the breading mix until nicely coated. 

Add to hot oil, and fry until golden brown and cooked through (about 5-6 minutes). Remove from oil to drain on a plate lined with paper towels. 

To serve, place a waffle on the plate. Top with a scoop of the salad mixture, 2 chicken tenderloins and a drizzle of bleu cheese dressing on top. 

It's making my mouth water all over again just typing out this recipe! The Mr. has his favorite things that I make. But, in my own opinion... this is my all time favorite meal that I have EVER made. We rolled the waffles up to make the connection to "pigs in a blanket" official, but that didn't translate well into the photo session. Serve with a side of celery, and some extra bleu cheese dressing for dipping... perfecto!

The origin of chicken and waffles is uncertain, at best. Stories range from Southern slaves to the Pennsylvania Dutch being the creators of this dish. Either or, one thing is for certain... this dish gained its popularity through the Harlem Renaissance of the 20's-40's. At the height of the jazz music explosion, Harlem was the place to be. Concerts, parties, eves of merriment would often linger into the wee hours of the morning. Many restaurants in the area began to capitalize on the trend, and stay open for hours to accomodate the famished party-goers. The infamous Wells' Supper Club, in attempt to eliminate food waste, decided to take their left-over fried chicken from the end of the dinner rush, combine it with a sweet waffle topped with syrup, and the rest is history! Chicken and waffles are a true southern staple, and this spin on the classic dish is keep your taste buds coming back for more.

Thanks for joining me today, and check back on Wednesday for another Next Food Network Star Challenge... Challenge #8!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Next Food Network Star: Challenge #3

Ahhh... Chopped. The panic-inducing, time-crunching, totally-bizarre-ingredient-having televised cooking competition. I watch it. Frequently. And, frequently I can even come up with a dish right off the top of my head, just as the infamous basket is thrust open to unveil a collection of ingredients that you would never think of combining. Other times... I sit scratching my head, and thinking, "What the...?"

Episode #3 in The Next Food Network Star was all about Chopped. Dessert Chopped, to be exact. Each team got a mystery basket, then had to compete against the other members of their team to come up with the best dish. Here's the synopsis per Food Network

The 13 remaining finalists meet Chopped judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Scott Conant, and Marc Murphy and are given their Star Challenge: desserts. But it's not just any dessert challenge. Each team must use a basket of ingredients to create their best sweet concoction in a head-to-head inter-team battle -- Chopped style!

This go-round, rather than drawing from a hat, I allowed the Mr. to select the mystery basket components. This could have gone horribly wrong in my favor. But, lucky me (or maybe he was just feeling generous)... he picked the one basket I actually had a GREAT idea for!

The contents: Pineapple, Hershey's chocolate, pasta dough, and black lava salt.

First off, pardon me while I excuse myself for a few minutes to attempt to contain my laughter at the thought of the Mr. actually being able to procure black lava salt anywhere near Fayetteville, NC. 


Okay. I'm back. Oh. You've never had the priveledge of visiting what one old friend lovingly coined "The Armpit of America"? Well, let me tell you... I had visions of the grand ol' south when we first moved here six years ago. Gorgeous, historic churches on every street corner. A mile-long list of mom and pop Carolina BBQ and home cookin' joints to choose from. Living in a turn-of-the-century home with a wrap-around porch that went on for days. Fragrant magnolia trees and hydrangeas dotting the yard.

Reality check: Church is mostly held in run-down double-wides. There are more restaurants of the chain variety than any city should be allowed to contain. And, those gorgeous old homes? Not unless you're Bill Gates. Fayetteville is one of the very few cities in the US where the housing market never completely bottomed out. Not even close. Good luck finding a crappy two-bedroom apartment that doesn't run you $900 a month. So, where culinary delights are concerned? This is the anti-foodie mecca. No black lava salt. Not here. But, I did have some Italian sea salt that I have been hoarding for a year. Good enough.

As soon as they unveiled this basket on the show? What a cinch! I immediately thought of one of our favorite "Chinese" treats: crab rangoon! So, let's get to chopping!

Pineapple Pillows
1/2 C pineapple, chopped into 1/4" pieces
8 oz Philadelphia pineapple cream cheese
Frozen sheets pasta dough
Canola oil
6.5 oz can crushed pineapple
1/4 C, plus 4 fl oz water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Italian sea salt
2 Tbs brown sugar
3 Tbs sugar
6 oz. Hershey chocolate bar
2 Tbs butter
5 Tbs heavy cream
1/2 tsp vanilla

First off, fill a deep fryer with canola oil, and set to 350*. While the oil is heating up, let's start with the pillow filling. Empty the cream cheese into a skillet over med-low heat. Stir frequently until melted. Add the chopped pineapple.

Stir until combined, then remove from heat. Get your pasta dough ready. It will, most likely, come in long rectangular sheets folded into thirds. The fold marks should mark 3 squares along each length of dough. Use a sharp knife to cut dough into squares.

Spoon 1 1/2 Tbs of the cream cheese and pineapple filling into the center of each square of dough.

Fold the dough in half along the diagonal, and pinch around the filling to seal it in.

Fold the right and left edges in towards the filling.

Finally, fold the top edge over. It will look like an envelope, or... a PILLOW!

Repeat until you have all of your pillows. This recipe makes 8. Set aside. Now, let's start on the pineapple compote. Empty the crushed pineapple, 1/4 C water, cinnamon, brown sugar, and some ground sea salt into a small saucepan. Heat over med-low heat, stirring occasionally. This will form a warm, syrupy compote while we're working on the chocolate sauce and frying our pillows.

For the chocolate sauce, bring 4 fl oz of water plus 3 Tbs sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and butter, broken into chunks, stirring until smoothly combined. Then, add cream and vanilla; stir to combine. Let cool slightly.

While chocolate is cooling, and compote is working away, go ahead and drop your pillows into the hot oil. Fry until they reach a nice, golden brown. Remove pillows from fryer; place on a plate lined with paper towels to drain for a couple of minutes. 

Spoon some of the compote onto a plate, and top with one of your scrumptious pineapple pillows...

Drizzle with chocolate sauce, and enjoy!

Admittedly, I am not a huge sweets fan. Give me a good savory dish any day! But, this dessert... this one I am proud of. The tangy cream cheese filling, combined with the comforting, sweetly cinnamon compote, and that drizzle of decadent chocolate... heaven! This is a sweet that I would make an exception for any day!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chicken Redux

I have been so extremely spoiled with foods lately. With the littles being out of town for a couple of weeks, the Mr. and I were left with a surplus of money jingling around in the food budget. After all, we're only feeding 2... not 4-5. We've taken that opportunity to enjoy the luxury of shopping at Durham Farmers' Market for the last two weekends. A girl could get used to this! Fresh garlic, a million (okay, maybe 20) different cuts of bison, purple carrots, fresh sweet corn, juicy blackberries that burst with sweetness in your mouth. Le sigh. 

But, driving to Durham takes us over an hour and a half. Our car inhales gas like it's on its dying breath. Once the littles come back, we'll be lucky to get this trip in once a month. Even then, it will one rife with complaints. "Are we there YET?" "This is SO boring." "When can we leave?" Grrrrrr. Well, my dear market... it was nice while it lasted. We shall make our way back soon. I hope.

I will admit... this last weekend, we discovered the best market treat ever: free-range chicken. I am all about the concept and benefits from eating free-range animals. But, aside from the bison... I'd never really gotten my hands on any free-range meats. Probably because things like a 3.75 lb chicken sell for $13.88. That isn't the most feasible pricing for a single-income military family. And, I was skeptical that it would really taste any different than a store-bought chicken. Boy, was I wrong

What does it taste like? Tastes like chicken! Har har har. Not funny? Okay. Sorry. But, this is what chicken was meant to taste like. It is so moist, so robust and flavorful, so... chickeny! Sure, it's not affordable for everday consumption. But, trust me... you have to try it at least once! You'll be hooked! Promise. We'll continue to buy it as often as we can. And, when we move to Kentucky in the fall... we're raisin' us some chickens!

My favorite way to eat chicken? Roasted. With roasted veggies.

Roasted Chicken & Vegetables
1 (3-5 lb) chicken
2 Vidalia onions, quartered
1 head garlic, cloves and skin removed
Carrots, halved lengthwise, then again width-wise
Potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
Shallots, quartered
Fresh thyme
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper

Place the quartered onions around the edge of a cast iron skillet. Place the chicken in the middle. Stuff the chicken with thyme, and place a couple of sprigs on top. Drizzle the chicken with olive oil; sprinkle with kosher salt, and pepper.

Roast in the oven at 450* for 1-1.5 hours, or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 180*.  Remove from the oven, and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

For the veggies... spray the bottom of a baking sheet lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Carrots. We used these gorgeous purple carrots we found at the market. They had the sweetest, most earthy flavor after being roasted. Potatoes. We mixed some Purple Majesty potatoes with some buttery Yukon Golds. Garlic. Of course, fresh from the market. Shallots. Well, I can't say enough good things about shallots. I cook with them so very often. Toss those veggies onto the baking sheet. Throw on a couple sprigs of thyme. Drizzle veggies with olive oil; sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast at 450* for 30 minutes. I put the veggies in about 20 minutes before the chicken is done. That way, they're still roasting away while the chicken is settling on the counter.

Look at those crisp, roasted veggies!

You think the roasted chicken itself is yummy? Wait until you taste what we're gonna' do with the left-overs! Usually, the birds we cook are much bigger than the 3.75 pounder we got at the market. So, we typically have a good bit of meat left-over. But, between me and the Mr... we had to exhibit some self-restraint not to devour the whole thing so that I had enough for my signature Rustic Chicken Salad Sandwich!

Rustic Chicken Salad Sandwich
1 1/2 C pre-cooked chicken, shredded
1 Tbs spicy brown mustard
1 Tbs horseradish sauce (I always use Boar's Head)
1 tsp dried thyme
3 left-over roasted garlic cloves, mashed
Left-over roasted shallots
Cheese slices (I use pepper jack because we're all about the spice around here. Swiss or Muenster would be nice too)
Fresh baby spinach
A good loaf of artisan bread (or loaf of French bread)

Start by mixing the chicken salad. To the shredded chicken, add the mustard, horseradish sauce, thyme, and mashed garlic cloves. Mix until just combined; set aside.

Slice the bread into 1" thick pieces; toast them. Assemble the sandwich by spooning a generous amount of the chicken salad onto on slice of bread. Add shallots and spinach atop the chicken. Finish off with your cheese slices, then the other piece of bread. 

These sandwiches are so rustic, and yummy! They always remind me of fall, but are just as tasty in the summer! And, they go quite nicely with a side of sweet potatoe fries along with some horseradish sauce to dip 'em in! 

Back on Wednesday with Next Food Network Star Challenge play-along Episode #3. Still playing catch-up!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Next Food Network Star: Challenge #5

It's Sunday! Time to pop some corn, pour a soda, and get comfy on the couch... tv remote in one hand, laptop opened to Twitter in the other. 9:00 pm EST... The Next Food Network Star! And, here on the blog... time to play along with last week's challenge. Here it is per The Food Network's episode synopsis...

A Food Network Star must be ready at any moment for Food Network to ask them to participate in a television special; this week, each team will do just that. Each finalist will have to create and perform a live, themed television special based on a holiday or event. Food Network Star season two winner Guy Fieri hosts each special and gives feedback on which team and individuals performed the best.

Each of the three teams were given one of the following themes: Halloween, Cooking with Kids, and Game Day. So, we tossed them in a hat and got this...


Halloween? Ummm... yes, please! Team Alton was dealt Halloween, and I'm totally Team Alton all the way! He has the most unqiue individuals on his team, and their POV's are the most appealing to me. My favorites are Justin, Emily, and Judson (although he was, in my opinion, unjustly eliminated last week). He made this vegetarian chili that sincerely made me want to crawl right through the television screen and scarf down a bowl! It sounded that great. Justin made fried fish skeletons... uber creative, and Halloween-y. And, although the initial thought of munching away on fish bones was unappealing to me, they ended up sounding plenty tasty. Emily canned applesauce. See? My kid of girl... CANNING! And, Martie made hot wings. 

I had grand plans of making this full Halloween spread. But, things have been a bit out of sorts around here this week. Out of sorts in a good way. The Mr. is on block-leave from the military after being deployed for the last 9 months. I hardly ever get to enjoy having him home for 2 straight weeks. Plus, my littles have been gone to their grandparents' since last Friday. Never do I get him to myself for 7 straight days. Never. It has been great fun, and we thoroughly enjoyed our time together. But, I'm a girl that tries to stick with her commitments, so here we are. One recipe pegged down. But, it's a good one. All the creepy-crawliness of Halloween. Tasty to children and adults alike. Simple, simple, simple to make!

This recipe has been a family favorite since I was a little girl...

See? Serve 'em up in little flower pots? Fun idea for a Halloween party! You could get super-crafty with it and decorate the pots. Then dessert and a party favor! And, don't think for one minute that I didn't have every intention of decorating those pots. I can't stray from my crafty roots forever. It is, afterall, what this blog was born from. But, again with that time-with -the-Mr. thing!

Dirt Cake
2 (15.35 oz) pkgs Oreos, crushed
1 lg pkg vanilla instant pudding
3 1/2 C cold whole milk
1 stick butter, softened
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 C confectioner's sugar
1 lg. tub Cool Whip
1 pkg. gummy worms

Start by crushing the Oreos. I dump the entire container of cookies into a sealable plastic bag, set it on top of a hard, flat surface and use a rolling pin to crush the cookies into bits. This is a great stress-reliever. If you don't feel like simply rolling over the cookies... take the rolling pin, and whack the heck out of 'em!

Whisk the instant pudding and milk together for 2 minutes; set aside for 5 minutes to soft-set the pudding. I know the package insists that only 3 C of milk is needed. Ignore that. You want a different consistency.

Either in a stand-mixer with the paddle attached, or with a hand-mixer, combine butter, cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth.

If using a stand-mixer, switch to the whisk. Add the pudding mixture to the creamed butter mixture. Mix, starting on low speed and working up to high until smooth.

Fold in the Cool Whip with a spatula. Now, grab your pots (I've also served this in plastic beach pails and regular trifle dishes). If there is a hole in the bottom of the pot, just place a piece of duct tape over it.  Place the pots on a baking sheet to contain any pesky, stray cookie crumbs. Start with a layer of crushed Oreos on the bottom of the pot. 

Pour a layer of the pudding mixture on top. Repeat with another layer of cookies, then another layer of pudding.

End with a layer of cookies on top. Adorn with some creepy-crawly gummy worms, and you're done!

Now, I know that the contestants were responsible for presenting their dish as well. Although, being in front of a camera is a bit unnerving, I had planned to play along. This time, it has nothing to do with time-with-the-Mr. He is quite supportive (after all, it was HIS idea for me to do this whole play-along gig in the first place). He was going to film it for me. This time it is about the logistics of filming in my ridiculously small kitchen, and the fact that every. single. counter. faces a wall. There is a huge open space in the middle that is totally going to waste. I'm trying to save up money for one of these soon. Problems with filming in my kitchen? Eliminated.

In the meantime, give these little pots full of creepy deliciousness a go! They might look like your 3 year old took a shovel to your garden right after a rain storm, but they taste like fluffy, cookies-and-cream heaven!

Don't forget to check back on Wednesday while we play catch-up with Challenge #3. Now. If you'll excuse me... it's time for The Next Food Network Star!

Friday, June 15, 2012

This one's for Sarah...

One of my best friends, Sarah, and I have been on many cooking adventures together. Which is to say... while I was briefly living with her last year, I decimated her Fry Daddy and nearly burned down her kitchen. This is so unlike me. Truly. The fire in the oven... not my fault. I don't know that we ever figured out what happened there. The food was still raw when that started. The Fry Daddy? Every fryer I had ever worked with... you could put the top to the unit on it even while it was frying. Not this one. Well, there was hot grease flying at my face. And, rather than searing my eyeballs with boiling grease, I grabbed the top to contain it. Not such a good idea. I killed the Fry Daddy...

Sarah was a pretty good sport about it. Although, I still owe her a new Fry Daddy. In the meantime, I'll try to make it up to her with my recipe for bruschetta. This is hands-down one of our favorite summertime meals in this house. It's light, refreshing, and super-easy to make.

While I have no specific history on bruschetta, aside from the fact that originated in Italy (no kidding, huh?)... the way that Italian foods entered the mainstream diet is rather interesting. In the 1930's, many American-born children of immigrants had built their own families and began to steer away from many of the dishes that made up their heritage. For reasons ranging from not wanting to be embarrassed to open their strangely-filled lunch sacks at school, to simply deciding that their ancestral dishes were just too heavy and spicy or too time-consuming to make... many immigrant families began to adapt their tastes to a more"Americanized" diet. The one major immigrant group to hold out against this trend? Italo-Americans. The fact that Americans came to love the Italians' "signature" dish: spaghetti and meatballs, didn't hurt either. Food editors began to pick up on the trend, and various recipes for spaghetti could be found in a variety of American publications. The interesting part? Rarely did the recipes include the (at the time) dreaded garlic clove. From the original American recipes made up of anything from tomato soup with Worcestershire sauce, to just plain ketchup for the spaghetti sauce; and a combination of beef suet, horseradish, and "bottled condiment sauce" for the meatballs... today's spaghetti and meatballs recipes have come A LONG WAY! Thank heavens that our palletes became more diverse, and our cooking skills more cutting-edge!

But, back to bruschetta! Just the ingredients look mouth-watering before even being prepared...

1 (8 oz) container cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 lg garlic cloves, minced  *plus one whole clove to rub on the bread
1 handfull basil, chopped
8 oz cheese, cubed (typically, we use mozzarella but this time we used paneer)
Kosher salt, to taste
Extra-viring olive oil
1 loaf of bread, sliced (typically, we use Italian bread but this time we used a rosemary olie oil loaf from the market)

We start by quartering the tomatoes, mincing the garlic, and cubing the paneer. In comparison to mozarella, paneer is softer and a bit sticky. It is mild in flavor, but goes perfectly with this dish and melts in your mouth with every bite. If you are priveledged enough to be in North Carolina, and can make a trip to the Durham Farmers' Market... stop by Chapel Hill Creamery, and pick up some paneer. You won't regret it! 

Basil. Lord, how I love basil! The smell is just heavenly. I could bury my nose in a fresh bunch of basil, and not come up for days! And, chopping basil is super easy! Grab several leaves, lay them on top of one another, then roll them up kinda' like a cigar. Start slicing, and you'll end up with lovely little "chiffonade" pieces...

Toss the cheese, basil, garlic, and cheese into a bowl. Drizzle generously with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Gently toss to combine.

You can cover that dish, and put it in the fridge while you move on to the bread. Sometimes, I will make it a couple of hours ahead... especially on the girl child's cheerleading nights. By the time I come home, the flavors of the tomato dish have mingled nicely and all I have to do is fry the bread.

Start by lightly coating a frying pan with olive oil. I use a paper towel to wipe away the excess. Using a basting brush, brush on a layer of olive oil onto one side of the bread slices.

Place the slices of bread oil-side-down into the pan, and brush the side facing up with olive oil...

Fry on each side until nicely browned and toasted; remove from frying pan. Immediately slic the tip off a clove of garlic, and rub it on each side of the bread. 

You will be amazed at how the garlic melts onto the bread until you have barely a stub left in your hand. Serve a bowl of the tomato mixture with several slices of bread. Use a spoon to pile a generous helping of the tomatoes onto each toasty bite of bread.

I can guarantee this will fast become one of your favorite summer meals too! Don't forget to join me on Sunday for Challenge #5 in the Next Food Network Star play-along!