Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies

May I introduce you to your new addiction:

In a week full of Easter basket candy and chocolate bunnies, I thought you might need another sweet in your life. Heh.

Who doesn't love cookie dough? And then you go and combine it with a chocolate brownie? It's pretty much the perfect dessert - all in a convenient bar shape. After I made them, I took 90% of the pan to work to share. No one had any complaints about helping polish them off. Matter of fact, they were quite a hit. These are very rich and sweet so a little goes a long way.

The brownie is a dense cake-like brownie that went perfect with the cookie dough topping. Oh - and the cookie dough is not really cookie dough. I mean, it tastes just like it but there are no eggs in it. Think of it as a cookie dough frosting. Perfectly safe to eat "raw" or at room temp {not that I've ever had issues eating the real deal raw before!}

You need these in your life. I'm just sayin'.

Psst - As you know, this is Holy Week which = crazy busy in my world. It's about to go over the top with this weekend's work/church activities so I won't be back with a new entry until next week, when I can breathe again. So, happy early Easter to you and yours! And until then... let's make brownies!  

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Brownies
For the brownies:
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups light brown sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the cookie dough:
¾ cup butter
¾ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups mini chocolate chips

1. Prepare the brownies: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, with enough to hang over all four sides. Spray down the foil with cooking spray.

In a medium glass bowl, melt the chocolate in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each, until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, scraping the bowl as needed. Mix in the melted chocolate until combined. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour and mix just until combined (don't over-mix).

Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

2. Prepare the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer on medium speed to combine the butter and both sugars. Add the milk and vanilla and mix until combined. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips.

3. Spread the cookie dough over the cooled brownies (note: I used my hands to press it down - it was much easier). Refrigerate until the dough is firm, about an hour. Cut and store in an airtight container at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator (we thought they tasted better straight from the fridge).

Source: Brown Eyed Baker

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Grilled Rosemary Chicken Kabobs with Sweet & Sour Apricot Sauce

Last week, as I was making the grocery list, I asked Jason if he had any meal requests. I ask everytime and rarely (rarely!) get a suggestion but this time he came back with "stuff on the grill." Now while the calendar reads SPRING most of us are still dealing with the brisk chill of winter, which seems to be hanging on for dear life this year. But, he had recently filled the gas tank and was itching to break it in, I guess.

I've never hesitated to use the grill year-round but there is something about "spring" that makes my tummy start craving fresh grilled meats, veggies, and potatoes. So cold or not, we've been grilling at our house lately.

This was the first grill dinner we enjoyed. I pinned it last year and never got around to making it and man, was it delicious! If you're a rosemary fan like myself, you'll especially love it. No need to think about marinating it ahead of time; just toss it in the easy-to-throw-together sauce before threading onto your skewers and whip up the sauce while it grills. 15 minutes later, you've got dinner.

Psst - the red pepper flakes put some heat into this dish, though we thought the apricot sauce was perfect at taming it. If you're extra sensitive, feel free to cut back on it.

Grilled Rosemary Chicken Kabobs with Sweet & Sour Apricot Sauce
3 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary, divided
1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes *see note above
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/4 pound boneless/skinless chicken breasts or thighs, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Combine 2 teaspoons of the rosemary, the brown sugar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Place the chicken in a medium bowl, and drizzle the oil over it, tossing to coat. Sprinkle the spice mixture over the chicken and toss to coat.

Preheat your grill to medium high heat (400-450 F) and oil the grates lightly. While the grill is heating, thread the chicken cubes onto skewers.

Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce: Combine the remaining teaspoon of rosemary, the apricot preserves, a pinch of salt, and the rice vinegar in a small saucepan. Set over low heat and stir until the mixture is just heated through. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Arrange the kabobs on the grill and cook, turning every 3 minutes or so, until they are slightly charred on all sides and cooked through, about 12-15 minutes total. Transfer to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Serve with warm dipping sauce.

Source: Pink Parsley

Monday, March 25, 2013

Easter Menu Suggestions

Hard to believe it's already Holy Week! Which means my week is about to get really busy! In years past, I would often attempt to make a big Easter lunch for us but I've come to realize that it's just not worth the headache. After surviving Holy Week + Easter morning, a reservation for a great Easter brunch followed by a Sunday afternoon nap is really what my soul needs.

{of course, living away from family makes my plan that much easier to pull off!}

I have fond childhood memories of attending our church then heading straight over to see the extended family, all in our Easter dresses. After the usual posing for photos, we were allowed to change into play clothes and soon dig into the buffet of goodness. I hope that you and yours are planning a similar gathering this weekend and that maybe one of these recipes will help inspire your Easter menu!


Bacon Balsamic Deviled Eggs
BBQ Bacon Ranch Deviled Eggs
Pimento Cheese
Cinnamon-Orange Iced Tea

Watermelon Limeade
Classic Mac and Cheese

Spinach and Artichoke Mac & Cheese
Cheesy Potato Casserole
Best Broccoli of Your Life
Napa Cabbage Noodle Salad
Roasted Green Beans with Mushrooms, Balsamic, and Parmesan
Yellow Squash Souffle
Deviled Egg Pasta Salad
Brownie Truffles

White Chocolate Lemon Truffles
Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
Tunnel of Fudge Cake

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Deviled Egg Pasta Salad

{Photo updated April 2014}

We're hardcore deviled egg fans. One side of my family are downright competitive when it comes to the battle of who gets the last one at any family gathering. Christmas? Thanksgiving? July 4? Funeral? Baby shower? Doesn't matter the occasion - those deviled eggs will be on the table (or heads may roll!).

So imagine a deviled egg and all that goes with it. Now imagine it mixed into a pasta salad. Y'all, it's magical. I kid you not - this salad tastes just like a deviled egg with 1) less eggs to peel and 2) way easier to make for a crowd. And since there are chopped eggs throughout, I can't imagine anyone complaining about this salad sitting in the place of their beloved deviled egg tray.

Okay, okay... maybe it'll be a great accompaniment to a deviled egg tray for families like mine.

Put this on your Easter menu for me, okay? And report back on how the deviled egg addicts in your family reacted. I live too far from my family to experiment on them :)

Since it's almost spring weather (maybe? hopefully?) this would be great to serve alongside a burger straight off the grill. It's so easy to throw together and delicious!

Deviled Egg Pasta Salad
1 pound small pasta 
3 cups mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
1 teaspoon white vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup pickle relish (sweet or dill - whichever you prefer. We are sweet people!)

Cook pasta according to directions on box. When finished, drain and rinse well in cold water.

Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Gently fold in the cold rinsed pasta, chopped eggs, and relish. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

Before serving, sprinkle with paprika.

*it's best served next day so if you can, make it ahead of time, cover, and refrigerate overnight

Source: Cassie Craves 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sloppy Bombay Joes

This recipe was originally posted back in September of 2010 and it deserved an update!

I Hate Sloppy Joes.

I Hate Sloppy Joes.

I Hate Sloppy Joes.

I can't even count how many times I've said that over the years... and then this dish came along. And I had to eat my words. The problem was that the only sloppy joe I'd ever tasted involved a can of Manwich (or was served in a school cafeteria!) and that's just unpleasant. But this version? The complete opposite!

This dish tastes complicated but it's really not. And the best thing? It's a family pleasing meal that's not bland like something from a can. Think of this as a kicked up version of the traditional sloppy joe. And when I say kicked up I mean 100000x better. Don't think you'd like the Indian spices? Just try it once; I think you'll find the American comfort food + Indian twist is delicious and something most anyone would love.

{don't believe me? the original recipe has over 650 five star reviews! that means something, right?}

Indian spices can be found at most nicer grocery stores and World Market. I also enjoy stopping in at my local Indian food market - they are super cheap there and it's a fun place to visit!

Psst - this is extra delicious when served alongside this kale salad with mangos and pepitas!

Sloppy Bombay Joes
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 serrano chile, seeded and finely minced (save the other half for the turkey)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
For the turkey:
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
Small handful of shelled pistachios, about 1/4 cup
Small handful of raisins, about 1/4 cup
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 large white onion, finely diced
1 red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, finely diced
1/2 serrano chile, seeds intact (don't chop it up unless you like things spicy!)
Kosher salt
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup half-and-half
Small handful chopped fresh cilantro (soft stems included)
4 to 6 hamburger buns

Begin by making the sauce: Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, until it shimmers. Add the ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper. Saute until the ginger and garlic brown a little. Add the garam masala and paprika and saute for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 15 minutes.

While it simmers, warm 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet. When shimmering, add the pistachios and raisins. Cook until the raisins swell up and the pistachios toast slightly. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Return the pan to medium heat, add 1 to 2 more tablespoons of oil, and warm until shimmering. Add the ground cumin and stir for about 10 seconds. Stir in the onions and bell pepper; saute until softened and starting to brown. Add the serrano pepper. Saute for another couple of minutes, seasoning with a little salt. Stir in the turkey, breaking it up with your spoon. Cook until opaque, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, your sauce should be ready. Pour the sauce into the skillet with the turkey. Stir and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture has thickened slightly, about 10 minutes.

Once the turkey is cooked and the sauce has thickened a little, remove the serrano pepper. Add the honey, half-and-half, pistachios, and raisins. Stir through and taste for seasoning. Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro.

Serve on toasted buns.

Source: Aarti Sequeira

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mexican Rice

Hey look! The Texas girl is posting a Tex-Mex recipe! Shocked? Yeah, me neither.

I've made various kinds of enchiladas, tacos, and refried beans but never rice. Which is odd, since I like mexican rice way more than refried beans.

Every well rounded Tex Mex meal comes with rice and beans. It's just the way it is. Some people (*cough*Jason*cough*) order double beans but they're the weird ones. Rice and beans - when mixed together on your fork - are a perfect pair.

And then you move to North Carolina where Mexican food can be found... but it's not Tex Mex. And the rice just doesn't taste exactly like home. Partially because it's actually different and partially because it's just not home. You know how things at home taste just right? There's some truth to that. So, I thought it was about time to make a true Tex Mex mexican rice at home.

This recipe definitely hit the spot. Tomatoey, flavorful with the all the right spices, and not too mushy nor too dry. It was just about perfect. For not being back home at my favorite mexican restaurant.

Making tacos? Enchiladas? Tamale pie? Beans? Make this rice to accompany it. You won't be sorry.

Mexican Rice
1 cup of rice
2 cups of chicken broth
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of lime juice
1/2 cup of cilantro
1 tablespoon of cumin
Salt to taste

Add rice, chicken broth and butter into a pot. Bring to a boil on high, stir once, and cover. Simmer on low for 20 minutes, then remove from heat and keep covered for 5 to 10 minutes longer.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, cook onions in oil for 10 minutes or until just about to brown. Add garlic to pan and cook for one minute. Stir in tomato paste and cumin and cook for one minute.
Mix in cooked rice, lime juice, and cilantro, and season to taste.
Source: The Homesick Texan

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

"Easier Than a Bread Machine" Bread

I've never made bread before but I think that there are few things more tasty than a fresh loaf of bread. Straight from the oven... smeared with butter. Since we don't have a bread machine (and I'm a pretty awful baker who is slightly scared of yeast) I've just never attempted it.

I've decided to reconsider my store-bought only bread habit.

{and if you try this recipe, you'll join me}

This could not be easier, really. I have no idea how much effort goes into using a bread maker but I'll take the author's word that this is even easier. So easy that you may find yourself making homemade bread multiple times a week. Not that I would know anything about that...

I continue to fall more and more in love with my cast iron Dutch oven and this bread cooks perfectly in it. You simply combine the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, cover, and let sit so it can do it's magic. Then shape it a bit, put it on parchment paper, and back in the bowl for a couple more hours. Transfer to a oven safe dutch oven and in less than an hour, you have a delicious hot-from-the-oven-and-amazing-with-buttah loaf of bread.

{and we totally dipped this bread directly into the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup I shared last week. mmmmmm.}

Who's now craving bread? Yep, me too.

"Easier Than a Bread Machine" Bread
3 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon yeast
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 ½ cups warm water
Covered oven safe pot (like a Dutch oven)
Mix together the flour, yeast, salt, and water in a large bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 12 to 18 hours.

After the dough has set for 12 to 18 hours, wet your hands and shape the dough into a ball. Place the ball on a sheet of parchment paper and transfer it - on the parchment paper - back into the bowl. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and allow to sit for two more hours.

Put your oven safe pot into the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. Once it reaches 450, pull out the pot and add the dough - on the sheet of parchment paper - to the pot. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for 20 minutes more.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Honey Chicken Salad with Grapes and Feta

Is it spring yet?

We got a taste of spring over the weekend with temps in the mid-70s and it was glorious. We opened up the house, did some spring cleaning, drove with the moonroof open, and started to dream about what we wanted to plant in our new yard.

{please don't remind me that my allergies are about to be out of control. I'm living in a state of denial for now.}

It was short lived, as the temp is dropping 25 degrees overnight but that's okay. I got a taste of what's to come so I'll try and be patient a few more weeks.

If you're craving spring - or are already enjoying it - this salad is where it's at. It absolutely screams spring to me.

It was fresh, and light, and healthy, and the makings of a great lunch or light dinner. You can throw it on a bed of lettuce with some additional dressing, make it into one of the greatest sandwiches ever, or do what I did and just eat it right out of the bowl with a fork. It's just darn tasty, and makes a huge portion!

Tip: I picked up the cup of wheat berries in the bulk section of my local health store. I've never made them before and now I'm a big fan! They give a nice chewy texture to the salad - and helps stretch the chicken even further. And they're super cheap!

Honey Chicken Salad with Grapes & Feta

2-3 cups shredded chicken (make your own!)
1 bunch grapes (about 2-3 cups), cut in half
1 cup uncooked wheat berries
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup of your favorite fruit vinaigrette (I used raspberry walnut)
½ tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons water
feta cheese, slivered almonds, and chopped green onions for topping
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the wheat berries and cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, until done (should be chewy - not crunchy).

Whisk together the olive oil, honey, vinaigrette, vinegar, and water. Taste and adjust as needed.
Combine the chicken, wheat berries, grapes, and dressing in a large bowl. When ready to serve, top with feta cheese, green onions, and almonds.
Can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Source: Pinch of Yum

Friday, March 15, 2013

Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup (from Epcot's LeCellier)

I'm a big Walt Disney World fan. No, HUGE Walt Disney World fan. I love vacationing there and hand's down Epcot is our favorite park. Is that any surprise given my obvious love for all things food?

Each country in Epcot has some kind of dining option that is sorta authentic to their country. And by sorta I mean mostly Americanized but still a good introduction to the country's flavors. Hand's down the most popular - and hardest to score a table - restaurant in the World Showcase is LeCellier Steakhouse in Canada. I'm a fan of their filet, maple creme brulee, and this soup.

This soup is so popular, actually, that it's featured annually at the Canadian booth at the Food and Wine Festival where you can sample a portion without the hassle of trying to clinch a reservation to dine at LeCellier.

Soup like this is a meal in itself - especially when paired with some warm bread to dip into it. It is so. darn. good. And this is coming from someone who usually doesn't see soup as a complete dinner. 

Regardless of the weather outside, it's always a good time for this soup!

Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup
1/2 pound of bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium red onion, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
4 cups milk
1 pound white Cheddar cheese, freshly grated (don't use preshredded! It won't melt correctly)
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup warm beer
Chopped scallions or chives, for garnish

In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon, stirring, over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Add the red onion, celery, and butter and saute until the onion has softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes over medium heat. Whisk in the chicken stock and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the milk and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Don't let it boil once the milk has been added!

Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and papper until the cheese is melted and the soup is smooth. Stir in the warm beer. If the soup is too thick, thin with some warm milk.

Serve hot, garnished with chopped scallons or chives.

Source: Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Cook Book

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Coconut-Lime Chicken

This is one of those easy weeknight meals that tastes better than it should, given the short amount of time you've put into it :)  And who doesn't like lime and coconut?

{you're totally singing that song now, right?}

The chicken should only marinade up to 2 hours but doesn't have to sit that long. The sauce is so flavorful that even if you only get 20 minutes of marinating time in, it'll still be delicious. We had this over jasmine rice with the lots of sauce poured on top. To ensure you have plenty of sauce, I doubled the sauce recipe (that amount is included below). Can you ever have too much sauce to drizzle over rice? I didn't think so.

This will soon be a favorite weeknight meal in your house.

Psst - this would also be perfect thrown on the grill!

Coconut-Lime Chicken
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 tbsp oil
zest of 1 large lime
2 tsp ground cumin
3 tsp ground coriander
4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tsp kosher salt
4 tbsp sugar
4 tsp curry powder
1 cup coconut milk
pinch cayenne
1 Serrano chile, minced (optional)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Fresh limes, cut into wedges

Trim fat from chicken breasts. Starting on the thick side of the breast, slice until almost cut in half, then open like a book. Cut down the middle (where the "spine" would be) to create two thin pieces. Place each piece between two pieces of plastic wrap and light pound until it's the same thickness all over. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts. When finished, place all the chicken in a gallon sized ziplock bag.

Mix together the oil, lime zest, cumin, coriander, soy sauce, salt, sugar, curry powder, coconut milk, cayenne, and chile. Add it to the chicken and chill in refrigerator for up to 2 hours.

In a large skillet, heat to medium-high and add a splash of oil. Using tongs, pull chicken from the bag and add to the hot pan - without crowding - to cook. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes before flipping to the other side. Cook until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. Because the pieces are so thin, this should only take a few minutes per side. As you cook the chicken in batches, place the finished pieces on an oven safe plate in the oven on warm or tent with foil.

As you're cooking the chicken, pour the marinade from the bag into a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Boil for at least 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When serving, drizzle with sauce, fresh lime juice, and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.

Source: Chaos in the Kitchen

Monday, March 11, 2013

Kale Salad with Mango, Pepita, and Honey-Lemon Dressing

Kale is so trendy right now, I seem to see it everywhere! A few years ago, I was first introduced to it through Aarti on Food Network and we immediately loved it when used in a salad. I've made this salad a handful of times but since it was on the menu again, I thought it deserved a better photo.

This salad is simple to throw together and because kale is so hearty, this is a salad that {even once dressed!}can stand up in the fridge to be eaten the next day! To get the kale tender, you literally massage it with the help of some salt and lemon juice. Then simply toss with diced mangoes, pepitas, and a quick homemade dressing of lemon and honey. It's light, fresh, and healthy!

This recipe was previously shared in 2011.

Note: I adore pepitas but found the crunch of sunflower seeds (pictured) worked great in a pinch!

Kale Salad with Mango, Pepitas, and Honey-Lemon Dressing
1 bunch kale, stalks removed and discarded and leaves thinly sliced
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Kosher salt
2 teaspoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
1 mango, diced small (about 1 cup)
Small handful toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), about 2 rounded tablespoons
In large serving bowl, add the kale, half of lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a little kosher salt. Massage until the kale starts to soften and wilt, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside while you make the dressing.
In a small bowl, whisk remaining lemon juice with the honey and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Stream in the 1/4 cup of oil while whisking until a dressing forms. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pour the dressing over the kale, and add the mango and pepitas. Toss and serve.

Source: Aarti Sequeria

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weekend in Charleston!

Also while my dad and brother here, we decided to visit Charleston! How cool is it to now be in driving distance to such a great weekend destination!?

We had a great time, and I shared more about the trip itself on our "personal" blog (here and here) so I'll just share the good eats we had.

Charleston is known for their food. Matter of fact, we visited the weekend before the Food and Wine Festival that looked amazing! There is a ton to do so we'll definitely be back (and maybe line it up with the festival!).

For Saturday night dinner, we dined at The Lowcountry Bistro, right near the market.

We went early and were seated immediately right inside the door near the bar area. The restaurant is located in the founding home of Limehouse Produce, so it's a long narrow space (this is the side of the building):

The menu is very southern (um, lowcountry...) but also very moderately priced for a touristy area. I had the hardest time choosing - the menu is amazing!

My dad and brother needed to check out some shrimp and grits while in the area so they ordered the appetizer portion to try. Their grits are made with parmesan and chives and the sauce is smoked tomato and bacon. And yup, I'm told it was as glorious as it sounds.

For dinner, my dad ordered a special that included seared scallops, fingerling potatoes, and a medley that had spinach, corn, and bacon. It looks unremarkable but it was easily the favorite side item on the table.

My brother was on a mission for seafood (Texas doesn't get much fresh seafood...) so he chose the crab stuffed flounder, which came with white cheddar and country ham grits, roasted asparagus, and pecan brown butter sauce. I kid you not – his plate was CLEAN when he finished his meal.

Jason went for nachos. Random, right? They were covered in Carolina pulled pork and pickled okra, along with queso, sour cream, and salsa. He wasn't that hungry so this hit the spot. And made him a cheap date :)
Like I said, I had issues deciding so I asked the waiter what is favorite dish was. He said the crab cakes were pretty popular and almost entirely crab so I went for it. He did not steer me wrong! These crab cakes were not only huge, they had very little filler at all! They look like biscuits in the picture - that's how huge they were. It also came with red rice and collard greens. The greens were good but the rice was disappointing. Very dry. I ate a few bites and left the rest - which is unusual for a rice fanatic like me! {since that sauce on the side? bacon. remoulade. yup.}
We were all very pleased with our meals, the service, and the atmosphere. It was a good night!
{after we ate, we did a ghost tour of the city - so cool!!}
The next day, after checking out some of the gorgeous Charleston architecture, we traveled across the bridge to Mount Pleasant. A friend had recommended a local seafood place nearby that we stopped in at for lunch. Since it was a Sunday, they had the brunch menu available. Shem Creek Bar and Grill is also a seafood house and oyster bar with a large selection of fresh local seafood available.
The restaurant is tucked back on Shem Creek and has a large deck area that overlooks the water.

One of the best things I found when searching for restaurants in the Charleston is that many offer brunch on the weekend. Brunch menus not only offer breakfast options in addition to lunch but they are also an inexpensive way to have a big meal that will hold you until dinner.

And breakfast food is always awesome. Anytime of the day.

Jason ordered the crabwich – an open faced crab salad sandwich with swiss cheese and crab sauce. His came with a side and he chose fried okra. I don’t think I snagged a bite but his plate was clean in the end so it must have been delicious!

My brother went for the seafood omelet, which was stuffed full of shrimp, scallops, fish, and crab. He chose creamed spinach for his side. It was crazy how much seafood they fit into an omelet!

Dad was still after scallops so he ordered them grilled with fried okra and creamed spinach. He was happy as a clam. Er, scallop.

I chose the blue cheese and bacon salmon, which really ended up being all my favorite foods in one bowl. Grilled salmon on a bed of creamy grits topped with crispy bacon pieces and blue cheese. I mean, hello?! Mine also came with a side and I ordered collard greens again; these were slap yo’ momma tasty and 10x better than the ones last night, and those were darn tasty already!

Looking at that picture is making me hungry. Must. Replicate. Soon.

Brunch prices were ridiculously inexpensive - less than you'd spend at Chili's for mediocre bar food! Our service was good, the atmosphere was nice, and the food was delicious. Two thumbs up!

All in all, we had a fabulous time and covered a lot of ground {and ate at two great spots!}. If you have a favorite Charleston spot, let me know so I can bookmark it for next time!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Swiss Steak (crockpot option)

Swiss steak holds a childhood memory for me that I think may be unfounded. Isn't that funny how things from childhood don't always match up with what others remember?

My memory is that my mom had a handful of dishes in heavy rotation, and swiss steak was one of them. And she always served it with/over mashed potatoes. She would tell you that we rarely had it but I don't care; it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I first take a bite.

We don't eat it nearly enough in our house but every once in awhile (especially when it's cold outside!) I get a hankering for it. And it's always just as good as I remember, and yet so simple. It's not complicated, you're not going to find it in Food and Wine Magazine, and it's certainly not winning any beauty pageants. But that doesn't mean it's not tasty.

This is easily done in the crockpot or on the stove. I've done it both ways and it really doesn't make much difference. You can throw in extra veggies (I'm partial to sliced mushrooms) or go simple. I always serve it over mashed potatoes, because that's what my momma did but it'd also be great over rice or pasta. Just something to soak up all that delicious sauce.

Swiss Steak
1 1/2 pounds cubed round steak
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (14-1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, cut into strips
1 medium bell pepper, cut into strips
Cut steak into serving-size pieces. Season, to taste, with garlic powder and salt and pepper. Dust meat with flour. In heavy skillet, brown both sides of meat in vegetable oil. Transfer to Dutch oven or crockpot.
In a large bowl, combine garlic, tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, and 1 tomato-can measure of water. Pour over steak and simmer over low heat until meat is tender, about 1 1/2 hours adding water, if necessary to keep meat partially covered. If using crockpot, cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Season to taste with additional salt and pepper before serving.
Source: Paula Deen

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta

It's pretty obvious that I'm a fan of quick meals. I do enjoy making more complicated recipes but after a day at work, there just isn't enough time or energy to pull something elaborate off. And I figure most of us are like that. We want something fast, relatively healthy, inexpensive, family friendly, and not out of a box.

This dish is perfect for people like us.

And it's way way way better than anything you can pull out of a box. It's delicious. Like, we were fighting over the leftovers delicious. Nothing earth shattering but just creamy, satisfying, and flavorful.

You can get this on the table in less than 30 minutes. Awesome, right?

Chicken sausage, tomatoes, cream, fresh spinach, basil, and cheese: all the makings of a big bowl of yum.

Creamy Tomato Chicken Pasta
1 pound pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
1½ cups half and half
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1 8-ounce bag (about 2 cups packed) baby spinach, coarsely chopped
2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish

Cook pasta in a large pot of well-salted water until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water, and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and tomato paste and continue cooking for an additional minute. Add the chicken sausage, using a wooden spoon to break up the pieces. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until the sausage is completely cooked through.

Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in the half and half and Parmesan. Simmer lightly, stirring frequently, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. Add the spinach, tomatoes and basil and stir to combine, using the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce as needed. Top with extra Parmesan and basil, if desired, and serve.

Source: Cook Like A Champion

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tunnel of Fudge Cake

I'm ridiculously proud of this cake.

Snap a picture and text it to your husband while he's at work with the caption "IT WORKED!!!" proud.

I'll gladly admit I'm not much of a baker but I had super special visitors coming into town and wanted a ridiculous dessert to enjoy together. This cake has been staring at me for months and now that I had a bundt pan, I figured I'd attempt it.

Well, it didn't get done in time for the company to enjoy but I had already purchased all the ingredients and was committed to giving it a shot. So I did.

All you bakers will probably check out the recipe, roll your eyes, and call me a drama queen.

That's okay if you do... because I am.

There are way more steps than my usual throwitinabowlandbake cakes. My kitchen was an absolute DISASTER when I finished. Between all the cooling and resting, this baby didn't get glazed until the next day. But as I poured the chocolate glaze over top, and it ran down the sides into a glorious puddle of goodness, I knew I had done something great.

{told ya I was a drama queen}

The real test was the first bite. After I snapped a bajillon pictures (and sent said text to my husband), I cut myself a piece... and held my breath.

Oh yeah. It was awe.some. Rich, fudgy, gooey, perfect.

I'm not sure how it happens but the inner part of the cake turns into a soft, fudgey center when you bake it. Which makes the "tunnel of fudge" name appropriate. So you get a bit of everything - in one cake. Amazing, right?

Those people at Cook's Illustrated know what's what when it comes to baking.

In conclusion:
1. This cake is brillant.
2. And totally guest worthy, or not.
3. You know you want this cake.
4. {you can't buy this at Costco!}
5. If Aimee can make it, guarantee you can too.
6. {it's probably super simple for non-drama queens to make}

Tunnel of Fudge Cake
To prep the pan:
1 tbsp. Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
For the cake:
1/2 cup boiling water
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
2 cups confectioners' sugar
1 tsp. salt
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
20 tbsp. (2.5 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

For the glaze:
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup light corn syrup
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. In a small bowl, whisk together the cocoa powder and melted butter. Use a pastry brush to evenly coat the inside of a 12 cup bundt pan.

In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the chopped chocolate. Let stand for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar, and salt. Set aside. Combine the eggs and vanilla in a liquid measuring cup and beat lightly. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl with a hand mixer (which is what I have), combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and butter. Beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add in the egg mixture until just combined. Add the chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated. Blend in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Spread the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the pan.

Allow the cake to cool (in it's pan) on a wire rack for 1.5 hours. Invert on a cake platter and allow to cool an additional 2 hours.

To make the glaze, combine the cream, corn syrup, and chocolate in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until smooth. Blend in the vanilla. Set aside for about 30 minutes, until slightly thickened. Drizzle the glaze over the cake and let set for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

(Note: if eating it by the slice, warm it in the microwave before enjoying)

Source: Cooks Illustrated via Annie's Eats

Friday, March 1, 2013

Meatball Curry

Oh Aarti, how I love thee.

I rooted for you on Food Network Star. I DVR your show. I've cooked many of your dishes and have yet to have one disappoint. You're my go-to for Indian food. Little did I know you had this delicious Italian-Indian hybrid dish just waiting for me to try?

This dish is like American comfort food, but better. This is a curry, but it does not have curry powder in it which I think scares a lot of people from trying Indian food. {why? I don't know - curry powder rocks!} The meatballs are packed with flavor, as is the sauce. You can serve it over anything you'd like - it would work over basmati rice {a nod to it's Indian roots} or pasta {a nod to it's Italian roots}. Either way, it'll soon be a favorite meal at your house when you're looking for all things warm, hearty, and comforting.

Meatball Curry
1 pound ground beef (I used turkey, you could also use lamb)
1 green serrano chile, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons coconut oil or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon brown or black mustard seeds
4 shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (1-inch piece) ginger, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 medium tomatoes, finely diced
1 (14-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
Kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice (about half a lime)
Serving suggestions: Rice, naan bread, pasta
For the meatballs: In a large bowl, mix the ground beef, chile, ginger, cilantro and 1 teaspoon salt together using your hands until just combined. Divide the mixture in half, and then in half again. Take each quarter and divide it into 4 small portions. Roll each portion between your palms until smooth. Set aside and repeat for all 16 meatballs.

For the curry: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, warm the coconut oil until nearly smoking. Add the mustard seeds, covering the pan with a lid so you don't get popping seeds all over you.

When the spluttering subsides, add the shallots, garlic, and ginger and cook until golden brown. Then add the ground coriander, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Stir, and cook 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook until they soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, 1/4 cup of water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and bring to boil. Turn down to a simmer and add the meatballs. Simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.

To finish, add the cilantro and lime juice. Shake the pan gently to mix them in, and then taste for seasoning. Serve over rice, pasta, or with naan bread.

Source: Aarti Sequeira

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