Posted in Appetizers, Autumn, Baked, Baking, Brownies, Candy, Cheese, Childhood treats, Chocolate, Classic, Comfort Food, Southern, Tailgate

Tailgate Time – Pimento Cheese & Brownies

Football season is well under way so that means it’s tailgate time! Well, by tailgate time I mean time to hang out at home in my yoga pants, watching football on my big TV, and stuffing my face with lots of yummy food. Let’s call that “home-gating”!  Sure beats dealing with the crowds, traffic, and rain!

As you know I’m from Ohio and in Ohio we take our Buckeyes football very seriously.  You can yell “O-H” walking down any street in Ohio (and a lot of times here in Nashville) and be heartily greeted with a reply of “I-O!”.  We Ohioans are everywhere!!  🙂

Other things taken very seriously in my family include pimento cheese and brownies.  These two things show up at every one of my family’s gatherings.  Our pimento cheese is the best (although by saying that I will lose a LOT of friends here in the south).  I didn’t realize how fanatical I was about that until I moved down here and no one makes it like my Mom!  However, on one trip to Asheville I was converted to the southern way of enjoying it.  Let’s give a hearty welcome to: Warm Pimento Cheese.  *applause*

Warm Pimento Cheese

8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup mayonaise

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 Tablespoon stone ground mustard

1 teaspoon mustard powder

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup diced roasted red bell peppers

Tortilla chips, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350.  Mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Bake for 15-20 minutes in a casserole dish.  Serve with tortilla chips.

Source: Tupelo Honey Cafe Cookbook by Chef Brian Sonoskus

IMG_20151024_184224

Another staple at our family gatherings has always been brownies.  My mom has a great recipe for cream cheese brownies that I’ll share sometime but today is not that day.  What could possibly make a brownie better you ask?  Marrying it with another Ohio favorite, the Buckeye.  Seriously, where have these brownies been all my life?!  They are soooo easy it’s ridiculous.  Let’s give a round of applause, standing ovation, and do the wave for: Buckeye Brownies.  Prepare to have your world rocked.

Buckeye Brownies

1 box fudge brownie mix

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 cup milk chocolate chips

Make the brownies according to the package directions for a 9×13 pan.  Let cool.

In a bowl mix powdered sugar, 1/2 cup butter and peanut butter together.  Mix with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Spread over the cooled brownies.

Melt the chocolate chips with the remaining butter in the microwave, mixing after 30 second intervals until completely melted.  Stirring between each interval.  Spread the chocolate over the peanut butter layer.

If you can stand to wait, let the chocolate set up a little bit and then cut into squares and devour!

Source: http://lilluna.com/buckeye-brownies/

IMG_20151024_210331I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have a plain old brownie again.  Go Bucks!  O-H!!

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Posted in Chicken, Childhood treats, Comfort Food, Family Friendly, Healthy, One Pot Meals, Pasta, Quick cooking

Help Me! Help Me!

My Dad was a great cook.  He was a master of ribs and loved Italian food.  He didn’t shy away from a challenge in the kitchen.  He took inspiration from his world travels while he was in the Navy.  BUT, despite all that, one of my Dad’s favorite things was Hamburger Helper.  Why he loved the quick, powdered cheese, pasta and beef concoction I will never know but any time I see the Helping Hand dancing around in commercials or see that familiar box on the grocery store shelves I can’t help but smile and remember the lunches I ate while visiting my Dad on the weekends. 🙂

Now that I’m all grown up and have a big girl job, a home and a husband I totally understand the need for convenience food but let’s be honest, those things are never very good for you.  I’m always on a mission to find yummy, healthy, budget-friendly, quick-cooking dinners to put on the table.  When I found this recipe on one of my favorite blogs, Annie’s Eats, I couldn’t wait to try it!  The only thing I did differently was add a few more veggies which my Dad would have turned his nose up at (he was kinda picky when it came to anything green!).

This recipe totally blows the boxed stuff out of the water.  It’s DEFINITELY going in the regular dinner rotation!

What are your favorite quick weeknight meals?

Creamy Taco Mac

  • Olive oil
  • 1¼ lbs. ground turkey breast
  • 8 oz. dry pasta (I used mini penne because it reminded me of the box!)
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, diced
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (14 oz.) can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 4 tbsp. taco seasoning (I use Old El Paso in the packet)
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
  • Parsley, chopped (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Cook pasta according to the package directions.  Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta water.  Set aside. While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion and carrot and cook a few minutes to soften.  Add ground turkey breast and cook until no longer pink.  When the turkey is cooked through add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in diced tomatoes and taco seasoning and let simmer over medium heat for about 7-8 minutes or until carrots are tender.  Add the pasta, cream cheese, sour cream and reserved pasta water to the pan and stir until the cream cheese is melted and the sauce comes together.  Stir in the frozen green peas (they will thaw as it simmers).  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer  3-5 minutes to reduce the sauce. Remove from the heat and top with shredded cheddar cheese and parsley, if desired.

Source: Slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats – Creamy Taco Mac

DELISH!!

Posted in Baking, Cheesecake, Childhood treats, Date Night, Dessert, Goat Cheese, Portable/Picnic, Summer

Berry Pickin’

Tomorrow is October 1st.  Today’s high in Nashville is 68° and there is a chance of frost this weekend.  You would think I’d be breaking out the butternut squash and making a big pot of soup but no, today I’m reminiscing about summer.  Go figure.

For those who know me you will know that I really hate summer.  There isn’t much about it that’s appealing to me.  I’m not really a beach person.  I’m not in school anymore so summer doesn’t mean vacation and being lazy (in fact it gets much busier in my world!).  The word “sweat” is not in my vocabulary unless it’s in reference to a killer workout.  And don’t even get me started on the humidity in the South!

Give me mountains, football, sweaters, pumpkin pie, and and bonfires and I’m a happy girl!

As much as I loathe summer there are a few things that redeem it.  I do enjoy tall glasses of iced tea (unsweet please!), baseball and all the fresh veggies I can handle at the Farmer’s Market.  Who can resist the sizzle of burgers on the grill and corn on the cob slathered with butter?!  Patriotic holidays and picnics are filled with family and friends and great nostalgic culinary creations.  So I guess it isn’t all bad…

My favorite thing about summer is berry picking.  Just thinking about it makes me feel like a giddy kid again (picture bouncing up and down, clapping hands and a permanent Kool-Aid mustache).  In the summertime every car we owned had a stash of butter tubs, empty plastic pint containers and anything else we could use for collecting big, juicy berries.  It was a daily practice to drive around the country picking wild blackberries and raspberries from fence rows.  You had to keep your wits about you in the backseat (it wasn’t law for carseats and seat belts back then) or you’d end up on the floorboard when my Pappa would slam on the brakes and pull over (hmm, he did this in the Spring when he’d spot asparagus too)!  It brings back fond memories of thorns in my fingers and burrs all over my clothes.  🙂

It was a happy day when we collected enough berries for my Grandma to make jelly.  That was always quite the accomplishment since I would eat half of what I picked!  Nothing is more satisfying than breaking out a jar of homemade jelly in the dead of winter when the snow is piled high and catching a whiff of lazy, summer days gone by…

This recipe combines two of the things I adore: blackberries and cheescake.  ♥  It isn’t blackberry jelly but it screams SUMMER!  Enjoy!

Lemon Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Blackberry Curd

(in a jar)

Blackberry curd:

  • 3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest of 1 lemon (juice is used for cheesecake)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or more depending on the sweetness of the berries)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

In a saucepan, combine blackberries, water and lemon zest and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer 5-10 minutes until berries start to break down (frozen berries will break down quicker).  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Process the berries in a food processor and strain through a fine sieve to remove seeds.  Put back in the saucepan over medium heat and add sugar and butter.  Mix the cornstarch and water together and add to the berry sauce.  Stir until thick and bubbly, about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Cheesecake:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 16 oz. goat cheese, softened
  • 16 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon and butter in a bowl and toss with a fork until crumbs coated.  Press a heaping tablespoon full of crumbs into each of 12 jelly jars coated with cooking spray.  Set aside.

With a hand mixer, cream together goat cheese, cream cheese and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating until just incorporated.  Beat in lemon juice and zest.  Pour into jelly jars to about 3/4 full.

Place jars in a roasting pan with deep sides.  Place on the middle rack of the oven and fill the pan with hot water about half way up the jars.  Bake for 15-16 minutes or until cheesecakes are slightly jiggly.  Remove from water bath and let cool completely.

Top cheesecakes with blackberry curd, screw on the lid and chill for 2 hours.  Before serving, top with whipped cream, fresh blackberries and a sprig of mint.

Because these are baked up in a jar they are really great for picnics!  Just screw on the lid, pop them in the cooler and you’ve got a fancy, gourmet treat to impress your friends!

*This summer some of my Facebook friends had a little friendly cheesecake bake-off photo contest.  We concocted lucious cheesecakes, took our best photos and had a blind judging.  I didn’t win with this entry but it was fun to participate!  I wish we all lived closer so we could have tasted them all!!!  

This group comes from far and wide to share all things FOOD!  Check out the cookbook that was created featuring some awesome chefs to honor one of our own.  Yours truly had the pleasure of being included!

http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2193766

Get a copy today and support an amazing chef, father and friend!

Posted in 4th of July, Childhood treats, Comfort Food, Cook out, Date Night, Goat Cheese, Grilling, Memorial Day, Sandwiches, Summer

Hot Diggity Dog

My husband, Steve, travels A LOT.  I mean like every weekend a lot.  It’s been traveling off and on for most of the 9 years that we’ve been married but that’s okay.  I knew what I was getting into when I said “I do” and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!

Sting - Lockdown PPV, Cincinnati, OH

We have been blessed over the years to have him work at some amazing places and with some amazing people but I have to say that his current job is probably my favorite.  He is the Assistant Production Manager for TNA Wrestling.  I’m not afraid to admit that I love professional wrestling.  It has been a guilty pleasure of mine since I was a kid (more on that later!).  You can imagine my reaction when he got this job!  The past couple years have been an awesome opportunity to meet some of the most amazing, entertaining people I have ever encountered.  My life (and our marriage) are much better for them.  They certainly make our lives more colorful!

Jellyfish - Newport Aquarium

I have the pleasure of travelling with Steve several times a year which is always an adventure.  Usually he’s so busy (I mean he is working after all) that we don’t get to spend much time together but I find ways to entertain myself.  I love museums, zoos & aquariums, parks and outdoorsy stuff so it’s never hard to keep myself occupied.  I’m a self-taught, wannabe photographer too so it doesn’t take much to amuse me!

We had a rare occasion on a recent business trip to Cincinnati, Ohio to have a date night.  An online gaming friend of my husband’s suggested we check out SENATE Restaurant.  For someone who’s never met us and hardly knows us, he nailed us perfectly.  It’s a hip gastro-pub in the up and coming trendy Vine St. neighborhood.  If I could pick this place up (and the whole area for that matter) and move it to Nashville I definitely would!  Their menu consists of gourmet street food, local beer and hand-crafted cocktails.  For anyone who knows me and Steve, you know that those words describe us to a T.  I had one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever eaten (the Hello Kitty with cole slaw, bacon and wasabi peas on a brioche bun) which just so happens to have been featured in the latest issue of Food & Wine magazine (http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/hello-kitty-hot-dogs-cocktails-2011).  How cool is that?  Try it with a cocktail or local brew and you won’t be disappointed!  The cocktails are fresh and made by the skilled bartenders right in front of you.  The open kitchen allows a view of the wood fired grills and the chef’s creating your food.  The atmosphere is hip and energetic.  It is all the things that we like in a date-night restaurant!

Check out their Facebook page for the daily dog inspired by and named after celebrities.  It’s amazing how a hot dog can perfectly describe a person!  A couple weeks ago Senate pub caught a case of Beiber fever and I have to say now I have too!  Since I haven’t tasted their original I’m not sure how close I am but it was dang tasty!

SENATE Pub inspired “Justin Beiber” dog

  • 1 package chicken sausages (usually 4 per pack)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 8 slices applewood smoked bacon, cooked to your liking
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • Crushed pretzels
  • Your favorite BBQ sauce
  • Hearty hot dog rolls, brioche rolls, hoagie rolls

In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat butter and olive oil until melted.  Add onions and salt & pepper.  Cook 3-5 minutes until they start becoming translucent.  Add sugar, stir and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring occassionally, until brown and carmelized – about 15 minutes.

While onions are cooking, heat grill pan or electric grill to high.  Cook chicken sausages according to package directions (they should be fully cooked already, you’re just heating them up and getting grill marks).  I start mine in a hot grill pan on the stove until they get grill marks on each side and then transfer them to the oven to finish, about 7-8 minutes total.

To assemble dogs: Place 2 slices bacon on bottom of roll, top with sausage, onions, BBQ sauce, goat cheese and crushed pretzels.  Serve immediately.

The moral of this story is, don’t be afraid to try something new.  One of our favorite things to do when we travel is discover the city/region by it’s culinary voice.  I love coming home from a trip and recreating my experience with food.  There are a handful of restaurants I’ve visited across the country that truly inspire me.  SENATE Restaurant is definitely one of them.  If you find yourself in the Cincinnati area for any reason make sure you stop by and say hello (kitty, ha!).  You won’t be sorry, believe me!

SENATE Restaurant http://www.senatepub.com/

Check out the daily dog on their Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/SENATE-Restaurant/134193393637

More shameless self promotion:  Check out my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/mndapnda421/ for more TNA Wrestling, zoo/aquarium and lots of random photography.

Posted in Childhood treats, Comfort Food, Date Night, Italian, Pasta

On Top of Spaghetti…

Men, pay attention.  Ladies, I’m going to ask you to walk away.  Go ahead, it’s alright.  There’s got to be something that can keep you occupied for a few minutes.  They’re in good hands.  Just trust me.

Okay guys, are they gone?  No?  Okay I’ll wait…

Now?  Good, read on.

I stopped at the grocery on my way home the other night to pick up a few things to make pizza (from my previous post) and a young guy, probably in his early 20s, stopped me to ask if I could give him a few tips.  His girlfriend was having a rough day at work and he wanted to surprise her with dinner and flowers.  He figured by looking at the items in my cart (lobster tails, goat cheese, San Marzano tomatoes) that I’d be able to guide him in the right direction.  On his menu: spaghetti and meatballs.

Want a quick, easy way to impress your wife/girlfriend/that girl you see at the coffee shop but can’t get up the nerve to ask out?  Take a page out of this kid’s book and make her dinner.

What?!  Am I crazy?!  Isn’t it easier to just make a reservation?!  Well sure, but wouldn’t it mean more for your lady to come home to a romantic dinner than fight the crowd at that trendy new restaurant where you spend way too much money on a meal that just leaves you hungry and swinging through a drive-thru on the way home?  Add to that the stress of choosing the right outfit (and the resulting tornado of discarded items), the whining about our painfully sexy heels, the cloud of smelly beauty products that will follow us like Pigpen’s dust cloud and the hours and hours you will have to wait on us to get ready.  Oh and if you’re a family man don’t forget that you have to find a sitter, yikes!

Sounds like fun, huh?  Unless she’s a foodie and has a list of star chef’s restaurants and has bookmarked every website, menu and blog known to culinary man (wow, I just described myself) save it for her next birthday, your anniversary or to celebrate that big promotion.  She will thank you for letting her throw her hair up in a ponytail, don that worn out, oversized rock t-shirt from college and sit back with a glass of wine and relax.  And if y’all are anything like my husband you will think that’s just as sexy as as the glammed-up, shellacked version of ourselves that takes so long to create anyway.

Now, I know spaghetti and homemade meatballs sounds a little daunting but I’m going to give you a quick and easy recipe that would knock the socks right off Lady and the Tramp!  Add a tossed salad, garlic bread and a bottle of vino and you’re golden!

Spaghetti & Meatballs

  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/3 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, diced fine
  • 3 Tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 (2lb.) jar herb and garlic marinara sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Thin spaghetti

Optional: garlic bread (from grocery bakery or frozen section), bagged salad, bottle of wine

Directions:

Put a large pot of water on the stove over high heat to boil.

(If you are adding garlic bread to your meal, preheat oven according to package directions.)

In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, cheese, yellow onion, parsley, egg and 4 tablespoons marinara sauce.

Form mixture into about 16 golf ball sized meatballs.

Heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.  Arrange meatballs in a single layer and cook cook about 2 minutes until brown and crisp on one side.  Carefully turn over with a spatula and cook 3-4 more minutes.  Add the remaining marinara sauce to the pan to cover meatballs.  Cover pan and reduce heat to medium.  Let meatballs simmer for 12 minutes, stirring gently about 5 minutes through cooking time.

(If you are adding garlic bread to your meal this would be a good time to put it in the oven.)

Cook pasta according to package directions.

(While pasta is cooking, prepare salad.)

Drain pasta and portion on to plates or bowls.  Top with three meatballs, a little extra sauce and lots of parmesan cheese.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?  You just scored MAJOR brownie points, believe me!  Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Well done men!

Mangia! Mangia!

Need dessert?  A store-bought pound cake with fresh berries and whipped cream is an easy, elegant end to the perfect date night.

And flowers!  Don’t forget the flowers!

Ladies, I know you read this even though I told you not to.  You’re welcome.  Oh and while you’re at it, be sure to give your man a nice big thank you!  😉

Posted in Candy, Childhood treats, Chocolate, Comfort Food, Dessert, Nuts, Pancetta

You Have Been Chopped!

Hello.  My name is Amanda and I’m addicted to the Food Network.

When there is nothing else on TV my thumb automatically punches in the numbers.  It’s a reflex.  When my husband hands over the remote he leaves it on the Food Network because he knows it will end up there anyway.  I can watch the same episode of the same show multiple times and not get bored.  I am inspired by different things every time.  It just depends on my mood!

My most recent obession is Chopped.  I wait in anticipation for the secret ingredients to be revealed…and then I yell at the chefs because they don’t make what I think they should make.

Come on!  Really?!  That’s all you could come up with?  And you call yourself a chef.  Geez, I could do so much better.

Well, that’s what I think anyway.  I would probably buckle under the pressure.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired!

I watched an episode a couple weeks ago that inspired a crazy sounding recipe that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.  The stars of the show: puffed rice cereal, cognac, butterscotch candies and pancetta.

So on this cold, dreary weekend I’ve decided to take on the challenge.  I even decided I would post my experience no matter the outcome.  I decided to change up a couple of the ingredients because they are a little more convenient for me but I think they still work.  It may not be your cup of tea but hopefully it will inspire you to break out of the box and do something daring.

Without further ado, my Chopped inspired creation:  Pancetta Browned Butter Rice Krispie Treats with Whiskey Chocolate and Ancho Cinnamon Almond Brittle.

Pancetta Browned Butter Rice Krispie Treats with Whiskey Chocolate and Ancho Cinnamon Almond Brittle

For the brittle:

  • 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Vegetable oil, for coating saucepan

For the Rice Krispie Treats:

  • 4 oz. crispy pancetta and rendered pancetta fat
  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • soft caramel candies
  • 10 oz package large marshmallows
  • 6 cups Rice Krispies

For the Whiskey Chocolate:

  • 3 cups semi-sweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey

Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with cooking spray or butter.  Hint: line the pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper first, letting it hang over the edge.  This will give you handles for easy removal to cut them later.

In a small bowl combine almonds, ancho chile and cinnamon.  Set aside.  Brush the inside of a medium saucepan with vegetable oil.  Add the sugar and water and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until it comes to a boil.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Uncover, reduce heat to medium and cook until the sugar becomes golden, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the nut mixture.  You have to work quickly at this point.  Pour the mixture on a sheet pan covered with a silicone cooking mat or greased parchment.  Cool completely, then break into small pieces.

Cook pancetta in a non-stick skillet over medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes to render the fat.  Remove pan from heat and remove pancetta with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.  Set rendered fat aside.

In a large pot, melt butter over medium-low heat.  The butter should melt, then foam, then start turning golden and smell nutty.  Stir frequently and don’t walk away!  As soon as the butter turns a light brown color remove it from the heat and stir in caramels, marshmallows and reserved pancetta fat.  Stir until caramels and marshmallows melt.  You may need to put the pot back on low heat to accomplish this.  Stir in pancetta and Rice Krispies.  Press the gooey mess into the prepared pan with a greased spatula or use the butter wrapper.  Let cool.

While treats are cooling, put chocolate morsels in a heat-proof glass bowl.  Heat cream in a medium sauscepan over medium-low heat until tiny bubbles form around the edges.  Pour cream over chocolate in bowl.  Let stand for a minute and then whisk until smooth.  Stir in whiskey.  Let cool slightly until it starts to thicken.  Pour over rice krispies and smooth out.

Sprinkle brittle over chocolate before it sets.  Let the chocolate cool completely and then cut the treats in to bars.

Whoa.  These ROCK!  There is no way these can be good for you but they turned out pretty great for my first attempt.  Sometimes I impress myself.

Tomorrow is Monday.  You need a treat.  Indulge a little or a lot.  ENJOY!