Tuesday, December 17, 2013

BBQ Ranch Pepperoni Pasta Bake

I've been following Shea over at Dixie Chik Cooks for awhile...and I recently had the pleasure and opportunity to meet and become friends with her (makes sense...we both live in Birmingham!). Thanks, Plain Chicken!

She created this recipe for a Ronco contest/sweepstakes, and I was so intrigued by the ingredients that I had to try it out for myself. 

I made a few changes, like incorporating the pepperoni into the sauce (instead of placing on top) to ensure every bite had some and reserving some of the cheese to cover the pasta for a nicely browned "crust."

I was so surprised at just how well these flavors worked together! This is decadent...and a neat change to traditional baked pasta. I'm already looking forward to leftovers today for lunch!

Printable recipe

1 12-ounce box rotini pasta, cooked
1-1/2 cups Ranch dressing
1 cup BBQ sauce
1/2 cup milk
2 cups Mozzarella cheese, divided
25 pepperoni slices, cut in half
Italian seasoning

In a large bowl, combine Ranch dressing, BBQ sauce, milk, one cup of cheese, and pepperoni to make "sauce." Add cooked pasta and stir to coat well. Pour into greased baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and some Italian seasoning. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Savory Breakfast Muffins

I saw these on Pinterest last week, courtesy of Shanty 2 Chic, and even though she made them with sausage, I thought it would be a great way to use up leftover Thanksgiving ham.

These are super easy and scrumptious. I made these on Sunday, and they have made for a perfect breakfast-on-the-go this week.

These got a little browner/more done than I wanted, so be sure to keep an eye on them the last few minutes of cooking.

Printable recipe

1 pound cooked sausage or ham
1 cup Bisquick
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Stir together all ingredients and spoon mixture evenly into greased muffin tin. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Pimiento Cheese Stuffed Pickled Okra

My sister had us all over this past Saturday for the Iron Bowl (WDE!), and I remembered that I had pinned this from Southern Living. I figured nothing said GameDay in the South like pimiento cheese and pickled okra! 

They include a recipe for the pimiento cheese, but if you want to make it easy on yourself (like I did), you can just used prepared (my favorite is Palmetto Cheese, particularly the one with jalapenos).

This is more of a method than a recipe, so I'll just describe. I used one jar of pickled okra, which ultimately yielded 22 pieces (easily doubled for larger crowd). Blot the okra dry, and slice in half lengthwise. Gently scoop out the seeds; I started off using a spoon, but it's much easier to just use your fingers. Scoop pimiento cheese into each half. I sprinkled some ground red pepper over the top for some color and a little heat, but you could use paprika instead, too. 

These were a big hit! Perfect finger food...and the presentation is so pretty! Everyone gobbled them up...I should have made more. This would make a great Christmas Eve appetizer!

Note: I have to give proper photo credit to Mae Shaw, my middle niece, who is nine years old. She asked to borrow my camera, and later, when I was going through the 107 pictures she took, I realized that she actually snapped the best one of this dish. Go figure!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

OBG: Chicken Spaghetti

Note: On the nights that I cook, I'm so focused on trying new recipes from Pinterest that I neglect the Oldies But Goodies (OBG). So...even though it kind of goes against the intent of this blog, I occasionally post OBG recipes to share my favorite, tried-and-true dishes with you.

Need an idea for using up leftover turkey after Thanksgiving? 

This spaghetti was a staple of my childhood. Every time I came home for a visit from college, my mom would send me back with a few batches that she had made and frozen for me. 

Here's the key: Season the cheese/soup mixture generously with garlic powder. Add some, taste, add some more, taste, etc. You get the idea. You may think it's too much, and that's when it's done. Once you add the chicken and noodles, it's not going to be as strong as you think, and it will be just right.

Printable recipe

2 cups chopped, cooked chicken (or turkey!)
8 ounces thin spaghetti, cooked
8 ounces Velveeta, cubed
1 can cream of mushroom soup
Shredded Cheddar cheese

In a large stockpot, cook Velveeta and soup until cheese is thoroughly melted. Season generously with garlic powder. Add chicken and spaghetti and mix well. Pour into a greased 8x8 baking dish and top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Southern Sausage "Cake"

I have only had this "pinned" for about a week...I was so intrigued that I couldn't wait long to try it. It comes courtesy of Elizabeth's Edible Experience, and she adapted the recipe from Marcelle Bienvenu's popular cookbook: Who's Your Mama, Are You Catholic, and Can You Make a Roux? (This has long been a favorite cookbook title of mine!)

I'm not a huge fan of bell peppers, and I might have left them out (like I did the onions), but I sensed that they played a pretty big flavor role. I was right...they are essential to this dish. (Plus, it makes the dish pretty...especially for Christmas!)

She suggests serving this at room temperature. So, I sampled it the night I made it after it had cooled, and it was perfect. The next day, I cut a piece and let it get to room temp...and it was a touch dry after being refrigerated all night. So, bottom line...I would serve this the same day you make it.

This would be a great addition to a Christmas morning brunch/breakfast...but it makes an equally delicious dinner, too! 

Printable recipe

1 pound hot breakfast sausage
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 cups Bisquick
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

In a large skillet, cook sausage and peppers until sausage is cooked through. Drain and return to skillet. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, mix together Bisquick, milk and sour cream. 

Returning to the skillet, add cheeses, egg, Tabasco, salt, and pepper to the sausage/peppers. Stir together until well-combined.

Fold sausage mixture into Bisquick mixture and pour into a greased 8x8 baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cuban Pigs in a Blanket

It's Georgia-Auburn Gameday Eve, and I gave these Cuban Pigs in a Blanket a trial run last night...and they are definitely making a "tailgate" appearance again tomorrow!

(If you don't know what side of this rivalry I'm on, the black plate and red placemat should help you out!) 

I pinned this idea from Cozy, Delicious, and there are several innovative "gourmet piggies" recipes on this blog, if you want to play around with different flavors.

I made a few changes. She used cut-up hot dogs, but I went with what I normally use for pigs in a blanket, cocktail smokies. She also stuffed her hot dogs with the cheese, but I just layered my ingredients. You could serve with spicy mustard...but I think they're just fine all by themselves. The ham crisps up and is crunchy like bacon...and the pickle gives it a nice tang. I used provolone cheese, but Swiss would work well, too.

These are crazy good...precious cute...and perfect football food!

Printable recipe

1 tube crescent roll dough
16 cocktail smokies
4 slices provolone cheese, quartered
4 slices thin deli ham, quartered
4 slices dill sandwich stacker pickles, patted dry and quartered

Unroll crescent dough and separate into eight pieces. Slice each piece in half (length-wise). On the thicker end, layer slice of cheese, pickle, cocktail smokie, and ham. Roll up and place seam-side down on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Creamy Skillet Lasagna

Here's a great one-dish recipe that provides all of the flavor of traditional lasagna without all of the work.

I saw this idea over at Cooking with Libby, and I made a few adjustments. I swapped out ricotta cheese for the cottage cheese (the texture of which makes me cringe). Also, her recipe calls for spreading the cheese mixture over the top...I found this too difficult (maybe my cream cheese wasn't softened enough), so I ended up just stirring the cheese in. Be sure to keep stirring until it's evenly distributed.

Tip: Measure out the water, add to empty spaghetti sauce jar, and shake. That way, you'll get every last bit of sauce.

The cream cheese makes this absolutely decadent. Granted, it's not as pretty as layered, baked lasagna...but it sure is easier...and just as delicious!

Printable recipe

1 pound ground Italian sausage
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1-1/2 cups water
6 lasagna noodles
1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, softened
Parmesan cheese
Mozzarella cheese

Brown and drain Italian sausage. Return to skillet and add spaghetti sauce and water. Break noodles into 2-inch pieces and nestle into meat sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. In a small bowl, combine ricotta and cream cheeses. Add to meat/noodle mixture and stir to thoroughly combine. Sprinkle with Parmesan and Mozzarella cheeses to cover. Add lid and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hot Artichoke-Jalapeno Dip

Get ready to add a new dip to your rotation! 

This idea is courtesy of Peanut Butter and Peppers, and when I saw it pop up in my Pinterest feed, I knew I had to try it. 

What an over-the-top-flavor twist on artichoke dip! She made a healthier version (with low-fat ingredients and Greek yogurt instead of sour cream), but I went all out.

I have gone back and forth over the inclusion of the jalapeno juice, in addition to the jalapenos themselves. When I tasted it last night, I thought it might be too strong for most people, but it got good office reviews today. I personally like the tang/acidity it gives the dish, but it could make it a little too spicy for a lot of palates. So...use at your discretion.

Update: I just had this as an afternoon snack, and it tastes just as great cold!

Printable recipe

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 packet dry Ranch dressing mix
1 14-ounce can artichokes, drained, chopped
1/2 cup jarred sliced jalapenos, drained, chopped
2 tbsp. jalapeno juice (optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese

Mix together all ingredients except Parmesan cheese and spoon into greased baking dish. Sprinkle the top evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Food Photography Journey

Let's start at the beginning. My first venture into the food blogging world came during my divorce, back in 2010, when I decided to cook 100 Southern Living recipes within 12 months as a diversion. 

I started off as such a novice, taking photos with my BlackBerry. Here is the first photo that appeared on my blog, SL Recipe Challenge:

Two months into the challenge, my mother called me and said, "No one is ever going to take you seriously if you keep taking photos with your phone. Use your camera. I am begging you."

So, this was the inaugural camera shot:

When the challenge was over, I wondered about a new adventure. It was 2011, and I discovered Pinterest that year. I took my huge binder of recipes I had torn out from magazines, found them online, and pinned them. 

I also did the same with all of the recipes I had bookmarked on my they would be all in one place and hopefully I would actually cook all of these great ideas.

That led to this blog's beginning. I thought, how about I cook what I pin and tell others how the recipes turned out?

Here is the first photo from this blog (I had definitely improved over time):

I took a lot of time off this year after a death, but slowly started to cook again. Here is the most recent recipe photo from this blog:

Early on in my food blogging journey, I became Twitter friends with Stephanie Parker, aka Plain Chicken. We started following each other's blogs...she made some of my recipes; I made some (okay, a ton) of hers (she cooks just like I do). 

Even though we live in the same city, we only recently had the opportunity to meet in person, when she did a cooking demo at a local appliance store.

I had the chance to speak with her and expressed interest in how she managed to get all of her photos, even casseroles, to look so good. I admitted that I frequently took photos of my food cold the next morning to get a decent shot. The lighting at my house was also so dim (for quality photography) that I dealt with a lack of sharpness (read: so many photos were ditched because they were too blurry).

She sent me a message a few weeks later that she was going to host a photography session at her house, and I was thrilled. She sent over the list of supplies I would need to construct a proper light box, and a group of lovely ladies met for dinner, laughter, and learning.

So...want to see the difference having the right equipment and a good teacher makes?

First, we took a few "naked" shots, like this one:

Then, she suggested adding a spoon:

Finally, she suggested snapping a spoonful. Stephanie actually took this photo, and when I saw it, I kind of gasped. She said, "Right??!!! That's the money shot." 

So, now I'm all set up to take great pictures of great food. Stephanie made me promise I would get back in the cooking game and regular posts to this blog. 

Thanks, Steph...and stay tuned!

P.S. Special thanks to my BFF Jenny for her extreme patience over the past few years while I repeatedly made her wait to eat until I got the right shot!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Eating in NYC: Day Four

Sunday morning, I got the ladies on the subway to head down to CraftBar in Chelsea for brunch. A few of us are big Top Chef fans, and we wanted to eat at one of Tom Colicchio's restaurants while up there. 

We ordered  a crock of biscuits and sausage gravy for the table. This Southern girl was a little skeptical about this, but it was absolutely divine. I'm pretty sure we scraped it clean.

Most of us ordered the Eggs Norwegian, which consisted of a split English muffin, poached eggs, cured salmon, dill hollandaise sauce, potatoes, and mixed greens. I've never considered myself a big fan of Eggs Benedict, but I loved this twist with the salmon. It was a very rich dish, but the potatoes and salad cut that when eaten all together. And, isn't it gorgeous??

After a few hours of shopping in Soho, we headed to Little Italy for a late lunch/snack. If you want an authentic pizza experience in New York, in my opinion, the place you go should look like this:

At Pomodoro, another local recommendation, I ordered a slice of pizza with fresh ricotta. The dollops of cheese were deliciously creamy, and we all agreed that the crust was pure perfection.

Back at our hotel, sitting in our usual post-shopping, pre-dinner cocktail spot, we changed our plans for the evening. 

We had reservations at Maze by Gordon Ramsay at the London NYC Hotel...but we decided to make it easy on ourselves on our last night by just walking next door to Bobby Van's Grill

I'm sure Maze would have been great (Amy and I particularly wanted to try both the risotto and scallops, in honor of Patrick and his love for Hell's Kitchen), but this turned out to be a good impromptu choice. 

I'm still thinking about our appetizer, days later: Sweet Chili Tossed Calamari, served with a peanut dipping sauce. 

For dinner, I ordered the Bobby Van Steak Salad, which featured chopped romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes and slices of medium-rare filet mignon, lightly tossed in a roasted shallot dressing.

We had a yummy breakfast at Bond 45 the next morning, and then we headed back to Birmingham (a few pounds heavier!).

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Eating in NYC: Day Three

Let's call this "the day we spent three hours at Macy's." :)

With multiple shopping bags in tow, we headed off to find a lunch spot (and hopefully a place to watch some of the Georgia-Missouri game). I spotted a Pig 'N' Whistle, an Irish pub and restaurant that I remembered from another location that was by my office.

Photos courtesy of Pig 'N' Whistle website

We parked ourselves in front of one of the many TVs, and they graciously turned on the game for us (me). 

The extensive menu (don't you love their logo?) featured classic Irish dishes, but I noticed the sliders on the "game day" menu and decided that sounded perfect with a pint of beer. 

The sliders were pretty standard...but the "house-cut fries" were what really caught my attention. (Think Five Guys.) Delicious! 

Overall, the Pig 'N' Whistle offers quality food and a fun atmosphere...great stop for lunch!

When we started planning this trip, we knew we wanted one dinner to be at a steakhouse. One member of our group specifically requested Uncle Jack's, which has a location in Midtown.

Photo courtesy of Uncle Jack's website

I ordered a Caesar salad and a 10-ounce prime filet mignon, cooked medium-rare and served in its own juices. Uncle Jack's dry ages its beef for 28-35 days, and steaks are charred in an 1800-degree infrared broiler. 

It doesn't get much better than a well-cooked steak...and Uncle Jack delivered. Whether or not you go to this specific place, a visit to NYC must include a night at a steakhouse.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eating in NYC: Day Two

The next morning, three of us woke up early to go to Rockefeller Plaza to watch the Today show. After watching the Friday concert rehearsal (What Does the Fox Say? duo...eye roll) and doing the requisite amount of waving and trying to get on camera, we were ready for breakfast.

There was a bakery right in the plaza, but we wanted something more substantial. Here comes my big NYC eating tip: ask a local for a recommendation. I went to a security guard and told him we wanted somewhere with eggs, bacon, omelettes, etc. He pointed a few blocks down to Burger Heaven, a 70-year-old, four-generation diner. 

You could tell that not one patron in there had found this place in a guidebook. Everyone inside was eating alone, reading the paper, and dressed for work. It was good, hearty food for extremely reasonable prices (for anywhere, not just New York). I made sure to go back and thank the guard on our way to our NBC Studios tour.

Later, in the middle of Fifth Avenue shopping, we all realized we were starving. Again, when in doubt, don't hesitate to ask a local. I told a salesperson at Henri Bendel that we wanted a place with a lot of variety where we could get a beer and re-fuel. She recommended Pazza Notte, which was right around the corner.

Two of us got paninis and swapped halves so we could taste each one. I got the Caprese Panini, with traditional ingredients (fresh mozzarella/basil/tomato), but I thought the olive oil and balsamic vinegar they added  to it made it a little too wet/greasy for my taste. 

On the other hand, the other panini, was straight-up delicious: the Pollo Annerito, which had blackened chicken, avocado, tomatoes, and mozzarella. Crunchy outside, gooey and cheesy inside, with buttery avocado and tangy tomatoes. YUM. 

Caprese Panini

Later for dinner, we ventured down to the Lower East Side to dine at The Stanton Social, which came up on several friends' recommendations lists. But, it wasn't until I visited their website to look at the menu that I realized I had heard of this place before.

Patrick and I once saw a segment on "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" on Food Network that spotlighted this restaurant's innovative French Onion Soup Dumplings. We swore we had to try these someday, so I knew it definitely had a place on our itinerary.

Also, if you're a regular FN viewer, you'll recognize the name Chris Santos, chef/owner, who is a frequent judge on Chopped.

Photo courtesy of Stanton Social's website

The dumplings as an appetizer were the star of the show, everyone's hands-down favorite. Served in a ramekin with six individual compartments (surely designed just for this dish), these dumplings are filled with French onion soup, topped with melted cheese and a crouton...and speared with a toothpick for a one-bite wonder. 

The rest of Stanton Social's menu is tapas-style (with 3-4 pieces per plate), designed to share around the table. We picked the following five dishes:
  • Ahi Tuna Poke – crispy wonton, avocado, fresno chili
  • Maryland Jumbo Lump Crabcake Corn Dogs
  • Tempura Popcorn Shrimp (with yuzu-chile aioli)
  • Shrimp & Grits – pan roasted jumbo shrimp, cheddar grits, creole sauce
  • Chicken 'n' Waffles – brick pressed chicken, aged cheddar waffle, corn pudding, balsamic spiked maple syrup
I know, right? Crazy. And we had such a hard time narrowing down the menu. Every single thing we ordered was a perfect little piece of heaven...but still, the dumplings ruled.

Note: There are no pictures of food. (Again, we were animals at dinner.) Once the plates were set down, they were immediately grabbed and passed around before I could even think about picking up my camera. Lawd.

For dessert, we had:

  • Warm Doughnuts with caramel, chocolate & raspberry dipping sauces
  • S’mores Crème Brulèe
  • Red Velvet Twinkie with cream cheese filling
I highly recommend a trip to The Stanton Social. It's loud, the tables are tightly packed, and it's dark. Very typical NYC atmosphere, and none of that bothered me. But, the food...oh, the not to be missed!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eating in NYC: Day One

I just returned from five days in New York City with four wonderful women, and I just had to create a blog series based on the amazing food we had while we were there.

I was in charge of dinner reservations, and we were loaded for bear! I left lunches open, to be decided based on wherever we happened to be in the city at the time.

We arrived Thursday afternoon and headed to our hotel, the Millennium Broadway, located on West 44th Street in Midtown.

The Millennium Broadway

Our hotel was located half a block from Times Square, so we walked over to check out the hustle and bustle. Realizing we needed a snack and a cocktail to tide us over until dinner, we opted for Blue Fin, which is located in the W Hotel.

We sat in the bar area, which offered an incredible view of Times Square. With floor to ceiling windows, we had the perfect location to people-watch...and it was plenty entertaining. I am borrowing a photo from their website so you can get an idea of what a great spot it was.

Photo courtesy of Blue Fin website

The restaurant is known for their sushi, so we placed a few orders of the California roll (for the sushi-scared person at our table) and the New Yorker roll, which consisted of shrimp, salmon, asparagus, and king oyster mushrooms, topped with a truffle soy aioli. What a great choice! I loved the crunch from the asparagus and the combined flavor of all of the different (and unusual) ingredients. The sauce on top was the ideal complement.

New Yorker in front, California in back

For dinner, one of the members of our group had requested Italian, so I booked us a table at Carmine's in the Theater District. While I could have chosen a restaurant in Little Italy, Carmine's is a New York institution, a legendary tradition, and where I always took out-of-town guests who visited me there. (We would make it to Little Italy later in trip). Plus, it is located about a block away from our hotel.

Photos courtesy of Carmine's website

Carmine's is a family-style restaurant, so you just order several dishes for your group to share. We knew we wanted a salad and two main dishes. While we were deciding, a man in the party next to us pushed away from the table and said, "Whew. I'm done." We asked what they had, and he said, "the best lasagna I have ever eaten." Done. We added shrimp scampi over angel hair pasta to round out our entrees.

I have no idea what happened (below), but before I could even get a picture of our food, the huge platter of lasagna was nearly gone. We were animals! I can't pinpoint exactly what made this such a standout dish, but we all agreed it was indeed the best lasagna we had ever eaten!

Stuffed to the gills already, we not only decided to order dessert...but the largest one on the menu, the Titanic. The bottom layer was a warm, rich brownie, which was then topped with chocolate and vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hazelnuts, strawberries, bananas, pineapple, and both hot fudge and caramel sauce. It was ridiculous...and out of this world.

As the (same) man remarked upon surveying the remains of our dinner, we acted like "little piggies." We should have been more conservative on our first night, because there was much more food to come during the trip!

Stay tuned...