Friday, March 29, 2013

Field Trip: Charleston, South Carolina

It always amazes me how our country coexists in such a peaceful manner because you travel to other parts of the country and you literally think you’re IN another country.  A three hour plane ride, and we disembarked on a sunny yet chilly South Carolina morning.  “There are palm trees here”!  Yes, I literally grabbed John’s arm in exclamation!  Sometimes, I regress to my own 5 year old self.
Our car was waiting for us and took us straight to the Charleston Place Hotel.  I am in love with boutique-y hotels like this one; if you recall we stayed in a similarly beautiful hotel in Kansas City!  We had to wait for our room but since I am so impatient, we dropped our bags with the concierge and headed off…in the wrong direction (of course)!  Never trust me with a map, I tell you.
Anyway, our getting lost enabled us to wander around the city and the quieter side of town all the way down to the Battery.  I love that almost every street in Charleston seems that if you could stand in the spot and go back 200 years, you’d see the exact same streets and houses (and maybe some more horses, but that’s digressing).  The city is steeped in history literally everywhere you turn. 
We were on the hunt for lunch and all I wanted was some traditional shrimp and grits.  As I mentioned before, John and I are as Yankee as it gets so grits to me were like a paste that I had tried a few times and couldn’t get into.  But I now realize, that’s because I was missing out on Southern grits (aka grits cooked in whole milk with lots of butter)!  We headed to SNOB, a restaurant I had heard a lot about and was anxious to try.  We were seated at the “Chef’s Table”, a long table that overlooked the kitchen which provided entertainment along with our meal.  John had a delicious Reuben sandwich that paled in comparison to my succulent shrimp and grits.  It was so big, I couldn’t finish it but wow I wanted to! 

From there we were on the right track…we headed up to the wharf to get on a tour to Fort Sumter, the Fort that saw the first shots of the Civil War.  I’ve always been extremely curious about the Civil War; not sure why.  I think its because where we lived in New York and then New England there were a lot of signs of the Revolutionary War – graves of leaders, the Old North Church, lots of places I passed everyday in Boston had seen the Revolutionary War play out on its streets.  But since most of the Civil War was fought in the South, we don’t actually see it.

And it’s hard to envision things you’ve never seen.  The fort is incredible and it was a great 3 hour trip.  Then, for “dinner” we headed to the premiere event of the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, the VIP party at the Charleston Aquarium. 
There’s something about eating fish in front of fish that just feels wrong…but everything was so tasty, I didn’t care!  The weekend continued on in much the same fashion and our consistent favorite dishes came from:  Husk, Magnolia, and SNOB! 

The weekend ended with a walk through the City Market and a gander at all the beautiful baskets that are native to Charleston.  We also ate a delicious Jazz Brunch at the Lownde's Grove Plantation, a National Historic Place, where we had the most delectable French toast which I cannot wait to recreate for all of us in the next few weeks!  When the weekend (which was a huge blur, except for the humongous grill sitting in our living room) was over, I didn’t want to leave. 
Charleston, we’ll be back, you can bet on it!
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Stand Out Sides: White Truffle Potato Wedges

John and I love the pastas we've purchased at Pastamore; their sales reps are always so friendly and helpful!  We've really enjoyed everything we've tried there from Chipotle Fettucine to their aged Balsamic Vinegars.  If you've never heard of them before, they're this specialty Italian gourmet foods mecca (seriously!).  After talking with them a little bit, I was urged to try another of their products, an oil or vinegar.

Now I've tasted the vinegars before and they are delectable and would have been perfect for salad dressings or a nice balsamic chicken.  But, I was intrigued by was the White Truffle Oil.  You see one of our last meals that John and I experienced as Boston residents was in a little tiny tavern in the North End.  We loved their burgers which were HUGE!
But on this night, they had a specialty burger that John ordered; I can't remember what it was now because the star of the dish was the side that came with it - White Truffle Parsley fries.  They were so good, you probably wouldn't be surprised to know that his fries became my fries and he had to fight me for a piece of the action.  They were just that good.  And ever since then, I've dreamt of recreating a similar dish.  This oil offered just the platform.  We added some Parmesan Cheese, tossed it all together and away we went.  Just as good as the real things!
White Truffle Potato Wedges
Serves:  4
2 large russet potatoes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons pepper
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Cut the potatoes into wedges.  Toss with oil, salt, and pepper. Arrange the potatoes in a single layer and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes; turn the potatoes on the other side and bake another 5-10 minutes until crispy and nicely browned on both sides.

Remove and immediately place in a bowl.  Drizzle with white truffle oil.  Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top and toss gently to coat.  Serve immediately.

Disclosure:  Pastamore sent me their white truffle oil to review and try out; I have tried other products that I personally purchased which I have also mentioned here.  All ideas, recipes, and thoughts on their products are always wholly my own. 
Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, March 25, 2013

Time-Out: Ricotta Gnochhi

I try to load up my Saturdays with making 3-5 dishes and photographing them as I go; as you know I have a wonderful sous chef / assistant photographer at my disposal 24/7.  Unfortunately for me, since he doesn’t get paid, he can also be a little grouchy when I’m on my 3rd dish and he hasn’t gotten to eat a single thing yet and his tummy is growling.

By the time the sun starts to set, which is now of course one hour later than it used to be, I realize that I’m too tired to cook dinner.  But, with our tight budget, we can’t just order in and pig out on the couch all the time.  Especially when most dishes, we can whip up in the time it takes for delivery, right?

So for those of you who looked at this post and thought homemade pasta, too much time, too much energy, too delicate, no thanks, I beg you to think again.   This isn’t the potato gnocchi you’re used to but once it’s boiled, it is just as delicious!  And, it’s easy – one bowl, no special machines, and dinner on the table in TRULY 30 minutes.  I served this with a quick tomato, cream, and basil sauce but I want to try again with a pesto once the summer rolls around.  And if the accomplishment of making pasta is enough for one day, toss it with a premade sauce – I won’t tell.
Ricotta Gnocchi (adapted from Diet Taste)
Serves:  4
16 ounces ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for rolling
2 eggs
1/4 cup Romano Cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

In a large bowl, using your clean hands, combine ricotta, flour, eggs, cheese, nutmeg, salt, and white pepper until a dough forms.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Roll the dough into a long rope and cut into 1-inch pillows. 

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add the gnocchi and cook 5-10 minutes, until the gnocchi float to the top.  Serve immediately with your favorite sauce.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, March 22, 2013

Sassy Sweets: Coconut Cake Pops

I've never really understood the point of cake pops to be honest.  You spend all this time making a gorgeous cake just to crumble it up and mix it into your delectable frosting.  Then you have to spend more time making it into balls, dipping them, etc.  Yeah, cake pops weren't really my thing.  But after this week, well, I can understand the appeal.

As you all know by now, John's favorite Sugaree's Bakery cake was the Coconut Cake.  And his love for it and the beautiful cakes inspired me to make something delicious and the perfect colors for spring.  And of course, every single guy that saw them talked about my "beautiful" blue balls. I swear that men's humor stops at 10 years old while us women in the world grow up and move beyond it.

Don't get me wrong - I love a good ball joke sometimes.  For instance, one of the guys I work with loves homemade desserts so I happily brought him a blue ball and a pink ball!  He told me they were "delicious" but that I probably wouldn't want him to return the favor with his balls and I said, nope, especially not if they're blue.  Okay - so maybe my humor is stuck at 10 years old, too!  But the balls are worth it.

Coconut Cake Pops
Serves:  48 pops (24 people)
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup skim milk
*This can be substituted with a yellow/butter cake mix.
1/4 cup butter, softened
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
*This can be substituted for cream cheese frosting
6 cups shredded coconut, divided**
12 ounces white chocolate, melted

Cake:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk together the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a bowl, beat the eggs and sugar about 2 minutes, until light and foamy.  Gradually pour in the butter and vanilla while mixing constantly.  Slowly add half the dry ingredients stir until just combined.  Add all of the milk mixing until just combined.  Last, add the rest of the dry ingredients being careful not to overmix.  Spoon the batter into a greased 13x9 baking pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Let cool.

Frosting:  In a large bowl, beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla extract.  Beat in the powdered sugar until fluffy. 

Pops:  In a food processor, combine cake, frosting, and 1 1/2 cups of shredded coconut.  Process for 1-2 minutes, until well combined.  By hand, form into 48 balls and place onto cookie sheets.  Press a candy stick into each ball, if desired.  Freeze for 2 hours or until firm.

When firm, dip the balls into melted chocolate and then roll in reserved shredded coconut.  Place them back on a cookie sheet until the outer chocolate coat has hardened.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to use or serve immediately. 
**Coloring Coconut:  Coloring coconut could not be easier.  Simply split the coconut into different bowls, drop 3 drops of food coloring and mix well with a fork, being careful to break up coconut and coat evenly.  Add additional food coloring only if needed. 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sassy Sweets: Grasshopper Tart

Another Birthday.  Now that I’m approaching the tail end of my twenties, it’s getting harder to get excited for each passing year.  In truth, I start to psych myself out – berating myself for only getting HERE at this point in my life when I thought I’d be better, higher, etc.  It’s the same wondering why I'm not married, despite the fact that I'm not ready and our relationship works well enough right now. And the same with not having kids, despite the fact that those snotty little buggers actually still repel me at this point. 
 To be completely honest, some years I've wished today wouldn't come so I could remain a young 20-something girl, forever, without feeling as though I’m under-accomplishing in my life.  But this year, I've taken a different approach.  I absolutely love how this year has been thus far.  A year ago, I celebrated my birthday with my Mom and Dad, which was wonderful.  But I missed John, I missed Boston, I missed having a LIFE. Okay, so we’re still a little light on the “life” part of it, but John is here now, and we've settled in.  

I woke up the other day and realized it’s okay that at 27 I’m still figuring it all out.  I don’t think I should ever STOP trying to figure it all out – because that’s the day my soul will stop living.  So another birthday came and to celebrate, I made a birthday cake for myself.  It’s solely the flavors that I like because I’ve decided to be a little selfish.  In my quest to be more in 2013, I’m slowly starting to appreciate myself for who I am, and to forgive myself for who I am not and will never be.  And you know what?  27 is the perfect time to start figuring that out!
Grasshopper Tart (adapted from Kelly's Konfections)
Serves:  8 (1-9 inch tart)
18 oreos
5 tablespoons butter, melted

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
1 gelatin packet (or 2 1/2 teaspoons)
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup creme de menthe
4 drops green food coloring
1 cup mini chocolate chips
Crust:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  In a food processor, crush the oreos.  Combine the crushed oreos and butter together.  Press into a 9-inch pie pan and bake for 10 minutes, until set.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Filling: Pour 1/2 cup of the heavy cream into a saucepan.  Sprinkle gelatin over it and let sit for 5 minutes.  Then, heat the heavy cream mixture on low until just simmering.  Cook 10-15 minutes until gelatin is dissolved.  Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and sugar together in a small bowl.  Slowly pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks whisking constantly so the eggs do not curdle.  Return the mixture to the saucepan and continue to heat for 3-5 minutes until the mixture coats the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and stir in the creme de menthe and food coloring.

Pour the mixture into a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate 15-25 minutes, until thickened.  Beat the remaining heavy cream until soft peaks form.  Fold the creme de menthe mixture into the heavy cream.  Stir in 1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips.  

Spoon the filling into the prepared pie pan, top with the remaining mini chocolate chips and refrigerate overnight.  Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.  

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Birthday (Marie Antoinette Style) + Giveaway!

As you all know, in the beginning of March we had a fantastic long weekend in Charleston courtesy of Avalon Winery when I was a finalist in their Great American Recipe Contest!  We had access to the Charleston Food + Wine Festival's grand tasting tents which was an array of delicious local and homemade products from around the area!
There we were introduced to an amazing Southern bakery called “Sugaree’s Bakery”.  They are located in Mississippi so you lucky Southerners can eat all the cake you want!  John and I are total Yankees – living in New England and New York our entire lives.   Imagine our surprise when we tasted Caramel Cake, for the first time (which is so sad that both of us have spent over 50+ years combined on this planet and never had this delectable dessert).  I was enthralled and of course, me being me, I got to speaking with one of the women.  That led to tastes of the Red Velvet and Coconut Cake.  Well, I could have sat there and eaten the Red Velvet cake all day.  But not John…he had very quietly devoured the entire slice of coconut cake and was giving me that look.
C’mon ladies, you know that look.  It says I will love you so much if you just FEED ME MORE.  Imagine his (and my) happiness when I heard we could order from them online.  I reached out to them to let them know how much we loved their cakes and I was thrilled that they wanted to share my love of cake with all of you!!!  You can try any one of their delicious flavors that comes right to your door fresh and delicious. 
My birthday is a special occasion so we’re going to celebrate!  I’m turning 27 Marie Antoinette style and letting YOU eat cake!  Next time you miss someone’s birthday, I can promise you instant love by just sending one of these cakes.  Or better yet, send a gift card so the recipient can pick the cake themselves!  I know in my family, M would be eating the chocolate cake; K, Red Velvet.  And I don’t think anyone would turn down their first bite of real Southern Caramel Cake.  Honestly, you can’t go wrong.
Now to the important part – the birthday giveaway! 

TO ENTER:  The contest will run until Friday, March 22nd at 11:59 PM EST.  My computer clock will judge that.  I will choose a winner from  

**Giveaway is NOW CLOSED!

EVEN IF YOU DON'T WIN:  Use "THEGROWINGFOODIE" promo code at checkout at Sugaree's and receive $10 off your order!

Disclosure:  I did not get compensated for this post by being paid in money or paid in free cake.  Anyone who attended the Food + Wine Festival would have tried any of the same cakes we did.  I liked them so much that I chose to reach out to Sugaree's Bakery.  They were kind enough to offer one directly to my readers in honor of my birthday.  I hope you all enjoy!
Friday, March 15, 2013

Sassy Sweets: Chocolate, Stout, & Pretzel Truffles

Before I met John, I used to be somewhat of a wild child.  If you met me now, you might not believe this, so today, I offer proof.  I loved to go out with my friends and dance and drink and drink and dance and dance some more.  I loved to dance; whether or not other people loved my dancing could be up for discussion but, my blog, my discussion.  I am a GREAT dancer!  

My senior year of college, we had spring break the week of the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  We started out early (because when you’re 21 and in college, you can do that without a lot of repercussions, right?).  We headed to the first Irish bar we could find along the parade route and had a Guinness.  I had been legal for less than a year and still thought drinking in the morning was a delightful treat rather than a surefire way to a hangover by noon.
To be honest, the parade paled in comparison to the people watching, people meeting, and beers that followed.  Somehow by 6 p.m. we were still standing and had been bought dinner by a very nice group of firefighters, or were they police officers, I’m not sure…but whatever that’s not the point of my story.  It was a memorable St. Patrick’s Day, that’s what I do remember.  That and the beer.  This dessert brings back those memories, and the stout, but in a more manageable and maybe even more delicious way!
Chocolate, Stout, & Pretzel Truffles (adapted from Sprinkles Bakes)
Serves:  8 (16 truffles)
1-12 ounce bottle Milk Stout (or Guinness)
10 ounces dark chocolate chips (1 bag)
1/2 cup softened unsalted butter, cut into 1 inch pieces
3/4 cup finely crushed pretzels
3/4 cup crushed pretzels

In a medium saucepan, add 1/2 cup of the Milk Stout.  Set aside.   In a small saucepan, pour the remaining Milk Stout.  Bring the Milk Stout to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until the beer has reduced to only 3 tablespoons.  Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, add the chocolate chips to the reserved Milk Stout.  Heat the mixture over low heat and cook until the chocolate begins to melt (about 3-5 minutes).  Slowly stir with a whisk to blend together.  When the mixture is smooth and the chocolate is fully melted, add the 3 tablespoons Milk Stout that has been reduced, stir in the finely crushed pretzels.  Pour this mixture into a large bowl and cover.  Refrigerate until firm (about 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the bowl, or overnight).

Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or tin foil.  Scoop out heaping tablespoons of the chocolate-Milk Stout mixture and roll quickly between your palms.  Once all the truffles have been rolled, you can immediately roll them into the crushed pretzels and then serve.  Or, you can place the truffles in an air-tight container up to a week until ready to serve.  Right before serving, roll the truffles into the crushed pretzels.

If you roll the truffles in the pretzels too long before serving, the pretzels will no longer be crunchy.  Alternatively, if you are having trouble getting the pretzels to stick to the truffles, let the truffles sit at room temperature for 5-15 minutes; at that time, the pretzels should stick easily.
Until the next time my oven is on...
Thursday, March 14, 2013

Brilliant Brunch: Bailey's Bread Pudding

I wanted to make you another Corned Beef dish this week.  But, then I was inspired by a good friend.  A is one of the few people that gets sneak peeks on the blog.  It sometimes feels like her, John, and/or family are right there next to me, that’s how close they are to the process.  And I appreciate that, believe me! 

But then sometimes, they throw you off your game!  A heard Irish week and wanted to know where her beloved Bailey’s dishes were.  Oops.  So, being me, I went out, bought a bottle of Bailey’s and whipped up this breakfast / dessert.  Sure, most days, I would consider this a dessert.  But if you are going to start off St. Patrick’s Day in any alcoholic way, let it be with Bailey’s.  The minute you start with Guinness, the rest of the day goes downhill really quickly.  Just trust me on this.

I had a childhood friend named Bailey and whenever I drink it, see it, or buy it, I think of her.  She was one of those kids growing up who was always fun to be around – we would imagine and play for hours.  So between A and Bailey, this breakfast transformed in my mind.  Slightly too sweet for a normal brunch, perhaps, but on a day to celebrate the luck of the Irish, a little sweetness and a little alcohol seems only fitting.

Bailey's Bread Pudding (adapted from Bailey's French Toast)
Serves:  4
Bread Pudding:
2 cups milk
1/2 cup Bailey's Original Irish Cream
3 eggs
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 challah loaf, diced into 1-inch cubes
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup walnuts
Bailey's Whipped Cream
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons Bailey's Original Irish Cream

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine milk, Bailey's, and eggs.  Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar.  Then, toss the challah cubes into the egg mixture, stirring until they are all coated.  Stir in cranberries and walnuts.  Pour the mixture into a greased casserole dish.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is browned.  
Meanwhile, make whipped cream by beating cream and sugar until peaks form.  Stir in the Bailey's and use immediately.  Or, store, covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 day (you may have to beat it again to re-incorporate the Baileys). 
Serve immediately with Bailey's whipped cream.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stand Out Sides: Irish Soda Bread

Last year, I made Irish Soda Bread Muffins for St. Patrick’s Day.  They were delicious and perfect to be devoured by all who encountered them.  This year, though, I felt like we should border on the more traditional.  A real Irish Soda Bread.  For this, though, you need buttermilk.

I have a love/hate relationship with buttermilk.  That is, everytime I make a recipe that involves it, it turns out great.  But, I never need all the buttermilk I buy and it sits in the fridge for weeks.  Then someone (okay usually John) realizes that it’s almost expired and wants to throw it out.  Then someone (okay usually me) insists that it can all be used and tries to use it up as liberally as possible (basically putting it in every dish I can find).

And this usually results in things that don’t taste so good, which I don’t blame on the buttermilk.  I totally blame that on myself.  So this year, I decided to quadruple (yes, that’s 4 times) the recipe.  Then, I brought a loaf to K&E, Mom and Dad, and even Awa got a loaf for herself.  I might not have gone the total traditional route.  I added raisins because we’ve already discussed my Dad’s love of raisins.  Heck, no one in my family would complain with their addition.
Irish Soda Bread (adapted from Baking Bites)
Serves:    6 (1 loaf)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, and raisins.  Slowly pour in the buttermilk and stir until the mixture comes together into a ball.  Knead the mixture for 3-5 minutes, until the dough becomes smooth.  Form into a 8-inch rounded ball and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or tin foil.  Cut a deep cross in the bread, using a sharp knife prior to baking.  Then, bake 28-32 minutes, until the top is browned.  Cool before serving.

I, personally, like to undercook the bread (not much, but just so there are moist crumbs that come out when you test it with a toothpick.  To me, there's nothing worse than dry bread.
Until the next time my oven is on...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Brilliant Brunch: Corned Beef Hash

In our house, making a whole corned beef for 2 of us is a little ridiculous.  Even the smallest one yields a lot of leftovers.  John is a huge hash and eggs person so when I told him that I was thinking about making it with corned beef, you would have thought it was Christmas morning.

And once I had given him the idea, he was off and running.  All I heard for weeks afterwards were small chants of “corned beef hash, corned beef hash” whenever I talked about potatoes, corned beef, Irish (anything), or eggs.  In fact, I’m even now chanting it in my head…it’s become very catchy:  “corned beef hash, corned beef hash”.

Being a blogger’s boyfriend isn’t a lot of fun.  We eat corned beef about a week before everyone else – then we’re expected to eat it again (okay that might not be such a problem), but we are always celebrating holidays in advance.  We’re also eating a lot of cold meals while the blogger (i.e. me) is taking pictures of your dish…just…so.  So when I can make him happy – why not, right?!
Corned Beef Hash (adapted from Alton Brown)
Serves:  4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
Leftover Corned Beef and Cabbage (at least 2 cups, drained)
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4 eggs, cooked over easy

Over medium heat in a large skillet, melt the butter.  Add the red bell pepper and cook until slightly browned.  Add the leftovers and cook, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture is warmed.  Add the thyme, oregano, and pepper.  Then, using a heavy-bottomed pan, press down on the mixture for 3-8 minutes, until the mixture is browned.  Stir and then press again until the mixture is browned.  Repeat one more time until most of the hash is crispy.  Serve immediately and top each serving with one egg over easy.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, March 11, 2013

Slow Cooking Supper: Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how ingredients and dishes transcend our borders.  In truth, a lot of what we eat is similar to what someone else eats hundreds or thousands of miles away.  This won’t be a political post, I promise!  I just find it extremely interesting that such diverse countries can partake in the same foods.

When we sat down to eat this Corned Beef and Cabbage, I was all about Ireland; but John was focused elsewhere.  That’s one of the things I love about him – he continues to show me new ways of looking at the world.  To him, this dinner reminded him of his grandmother’s New England Boiled Dinner.  Pretty much the same ingredients, we later figured out.

It’s a chicken and egg scenario.  Did the New Englanders know about these traditional Irish dishes and transformed them into the ingredients they had available to them?  Or is cooking everything together in one large pot just something that was more customary in those times?  In the end, I guess it doesn’t matter, right?  We get to indulge and it is delicious.  So, make this dinner for St. Patrick’s day, and have the leftovers the next day in a delicious breakfast coming your way tomorrow.  Who doesn’t love to reuse leftovers – am I right?
Corned Beef & Cabbage (adapted from Alton Brown)
Serves:  8 (or 4 with the remaining half to be used in tomorrow's recipe)
2 pound Corned Beef brisket, fat trimmed
4 tablespoons brown mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 carrots, diced
2 onions, diced
3 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 head of cabbage, chopped
2 bottle of stout beer (we used this Milk Stout
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons black peppercorns

Rub the brisket with mustard and sprinkle in the brown sugar.  In the crockpot, place carrots, onions, potatoes, and cabbage.  Pour the beers over the vegetables and nestle the brisket into the mixture.  Stir in garlic powder, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours (or alternatively, cook on high for 5-6 hours).  Remove the bay leaves and peppercorns.  Remove the brisket, slice it, and place the slices back into the crockpot.  Serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, March 8, 2013

Weeknight Dinner: Tomato Tortellini Soup

Lately, we've been getting little glimpses and subtle hints that winter might be receding.  Every time I think spring is right around the corner though, we snap back into a depressing cold spell.  It's one of those weeks where you just feel like spring might never come!

Especially coming back from Charleston - it was definitely not warm there but every day beat being in the freezing New York weather!   I was wearing a light jacket and skirts (okay and freezing my tushy off, but I definitely wouldn't be wearing either of those two things right now at home).  So now when I leave the house and it's 35, for whatever reason, it really feels colder!

And ew, who wants to be thinking that winter might still be here throughout the rest of March.  The only good thing about it?  The ability to warm up with a delicious soup.  When I first saw this soup I was enamored with the delicious looking tortellini and creamy broth over at Six Sisters' StuffI think you'll see I really made this one my own - feel free to throw whatever you've got in it! 
Tomato Tortellini Soup (adapted from Six Sisters' Stuff)*
Serves:  8 (1 cup soup)
1-9 ounce package frozen cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced small
1 cup carrots, diced small
1/2 cup celery, diced small
2 tablespoons water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups skim milk
1/2 cup chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
4 tablespoons basil, chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, add olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Cook onion, carrots, and celery for 3-5 minutes, until the onions are almost translucent.  Then, add water and garlic, stirring constantly until water has mostly evaporated and garlic is fragrant (about 45 seconds).  Add tomato paste and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Then, stir in chicken broth, milk, and sundried tomatoes.  Let the mixture come to a rolling boil over high heat.  Turn the heat to medium and let it simmer for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook tortellini according to package directions and drain.

If desired, at this stage use an immersion blender to blend the soup into a fine puree.  Then, stir in tortellini, basil, and half the Parmesan cheese.  Use the additional Parmesan cheese to top each serving.  Serve immediately.

*As you'll see in the picture, I like to toss a can of beans or two (drained) into my soups for protein.  Plus, John really hates beans and this is a good way to camouflage them.  He's so in love with the flavors in the soup, that he just slurps it right up.  Gosh, I could be talking about a 5 year old right?!

Until the next time my oven is on...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stand Out Sides: Homemade Caesar Dressing

I love how everyone thinks salad is a super healthy dish.  If you notice when you go out to restaurants, you pour on some thick blue cheese dressing, bacon, and cheese, and before you know it, it’s as much as that delicious salmon you’re putting in your mouth.  I’m not here on a pedestal today.  Just saying that sometimes it’s good to keep it all in perspective. 
Caesar salad is something I rarely turn down but it’s getting harder than ever to find a really good one when you go out to a restaurant.  Sure there are TONS of places that serve Caesar salad.  But I want one with cheese, crunchy and crisp croutons, flavorful dressing with just a hint of tang.
When I made the decision to make a Valentine’s Day dinner for us, I tried to recreate a restaurant feel.  I made a little menu, 3 courses, and dishes that we’d always order out and maybe not always make at home.  Because what is Valentine’s Day if it’s not an excuse to splurge a little – am I right?  The only problem?  Once you make this yourself, you’ll never look at Caesar the same way again.
Caesar Dressing (adapted from here)
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Romaine Lettuce (torn into bite-sized pieces)
Shaved Parmesan Cheese

In a large bowl, whisk together garlic, anchovy paste, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Slowly add the mayonnaise and Parmigiano-Reggiano, stirring constantly until fully combined.  Add salt and pepper.  Stir.  Keeps in the fridge refrigerated for up to 1 week.

To make the salad, toss Romaine, croutons, and dressing.  Top with Parmesan and serve immediately.  

Until the next time my oven is on…
Monday, March 4, 2013

Time-Out: Homemade Mayonnaise

Hey Ya'll!  We're back from Charleston.  I can't wait to tell you all about it.  I will tell you that I won a TEC Grill by coming in 2nd!  Woohoo!  I'll link up my award-winning recipe when it's posted on the Avalon Winery website!  Now back to your regularly scheduled programming...

I was talking enthusiastically to someone I work with about how much I love the Bachelorette.   Yeah, sure the Bachelor has its perks, but it’s the Bachelorette that really keeps me intrigued week after week.  And I was explaining to her how much I had loved previous Bachelorette episodes, it also occurred to me why.

The Bachelorette gives my dreams wings.  First of all, the 25 guys they choose are all good-looking.  Sure they may be cocky, dead beats, cheaters, or other undesirable types in my book but man can they light up a TV screen.   Fast forward a few weeks, you REALLY like one or two of the guys, right?  And you can pretend that when the lead lets them go, they could end up as your boyfriend. 

I mean, in my suspended reality here, I’d bump into them on the street.  I would be looking like my best self (well better than I am the other 364 days a year).  I’d say something witty and they’d be so taken with me that within 8 weeks I’d have a Neil Lane-approved wedding ring.  Just like the show!!   I try to explain this theory to John but since I do it while the show is on, he is all “yeah yeah honey, let me get back to my cars, radios, puttering”.   Regardless of your reality (or lack thereof), homemade mayonnaise also trumps all reality (or store bought at the very least).  It's easy to make, quick, and so silky smooth you'll be glad you indulged (kind of like the Bachelor...)

Homemade Mayonnaise (adapted from here)
Serves:  8 (yields total of 1 cup)
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup canola oil

IN a large bowl, whisk egg yolk, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, and salt together until well blended.  The mixture will turn a bright yellow.  Slowly drizzle 1/4 cup of oil, whisking constantly, a few drops at a time.  This will take about 3-5 minutes and the mixture will start to puff up.  Continue to add the remaining oil in a very, very slow stream, whisking constantly (trade off with a partner pouring and whisking if your hand starts to hurt).  

The mayonnaise will become thick and after about 10 minutes, the mayonnaise will be more white than yellow in color.  Cover and chill for up to 2 days.  

Until the next time my oven is on...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Weeknight Dinner: Shanghai Noodles

I love pasta, always have, and it was always a staple in our house.  Most of the time though, our pasta was served with tomato sauce.  I got the occasional clam sauce, vodka sauce, alfredo sauce, but the majority of the time red sauce.  My favorite was when meatballs would accompany the dish!

So imagine my surprise when I went off to college and there was a Thai restaurant down the street.  Everyone, apparently except me, had lived unsheltered lives where they all “loved” Thai food (now who knows if this is normal just trying to fit in behavior, or if I really was just a little Italian-American girl who only knew red sauce…I don’t think I’ll EVER be sure). 

The first time we went though, everyone seemed so self-assured.  They ordered these strange sounding dishes and then it was my turn.  I saw “pad thai” described as a noodle dish and was sold.  Of course the noodles weren’t exactly like my pasta back home, but they were good in their own right.  Since then, asian noodles and I have had somewhat of a love affair – see my delicious udon noodle soup if you don’t believe me.  This new dish, Shanghai Noodles, is just the next reminder that when east meets west in loving harmony, everyone wins!
Shanghai Noodles (adapted from Daring Gourmet)
Serves:  4
NOTE:  I used fresh Asian noodles so we halved the sauce recipe.  Feel free to double it if you use egg noodles, but I found half of the sauce to be plenty!
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup of soy sauce
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 pound pork (we used 3 pork chops), thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic
1/2 head Napa cabbage
6 green onions
1 pound fresh round noodles (you can find them in any Asian store)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon pepper

Make the marinade:  Whisk soy sauce, hoisin, sugar, and ginger, until the sugar has dissolved.  Slice the pork into thin slices and add it to the marinade.  Let sit for at least 20 minutes.  Reserve the marinade. 

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the meal.  Thinly slice the garlic and cabbage and set aside.  Cut the green onions into 1 inch pieces and then cut lengthwise.  Separate the green and white parts.  Dissolve the cornstarch into the chicken stock.

Cook the noodles according to package directions (most fresh noodles take very little time to cook).  Drain.

Add the oil to a wok (or heavy skillet) over high heat.  Fry the pork for 1 minute, until browned.  Add garlic, cabbage, and the white parts of the green onions. Cook about 30 seconds, until cabbage is tender.  Add reserved marinade, sesame oil, pepper, chicken / cornstarch mixture, and the green parts of the green onions.  Cook for 30 seconds.  Add the noodles and stir until combined. Divide evenly amongst 4 bowls and serve immediately.
Until the next time my oven is on…
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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