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...