Monday, December 31, 2012

Easy New Year's Eve Appetizers

A friend of mine asked for some appetizer recipes that would be great (and easy) to throw together for a New Year's Eve party so I thought I would share some of my favorites that take minutes to throw together but are absolutely delicious!  Here is goes:

Hope this helps and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
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Friday, December 28, 2012

Baked Salmon with Tomatoes, Shallots and Olives

With the pending new year I find myself desperately searching for new and healthy recipes in an attempt to detox myself from the holiday gluttony.  My problem lies in deprivation.

If someone says I can't eat dairy I suddenly crave an entire block of sharp cheddar.  If I learn that I really should have pasta I am going to want fettuccine alfredo. 

The options are endless....well at least when it comes to anything pasta, potato or cheese related.

My goal this year is to find great, healthy recipes that make me forget I am eating "healthy" foods and make me change my cravings to those meals that are really good for me.

We will see how it goes....I don't believe in resolutions as I think they are too easily broken, but goal setting is something I can wrap my head around!

Here is one of my first shots at such a dish.  When my friend brought fresh salmon across the country from Pike's Market in Seattle we decided to try it a couple different ways.

He smoked some of it while I decided to bake it with a tomato, shallot and olive salsa.  Both were outstanding!!  Here is the recipe I used which will definitely be included in my normal dinner rotation! 

Baked Salmon with Tomatoes, Shallots and Olives

3 plum tomatoes, chopped
2 shallots, chopped
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
4 salmon fillets (about 5 oz. each)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium sized bowl, stir together the tomatoes, shallots, olives, oregano, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. 
Lay each salmon fillet on a piece of aluminum foil and top with approx. 3 Tbsp. of the tomato mixture. 
Then, wrap the foil around the salmon, crimping the edges to form a tent. 
Lay the four tents on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Unwrap and enjoy!
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Spinach-Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette

Sometimes it seems a little difficult to really dress up a salad but this time of year, being off work for winter break, I tend to have a little more time to spend on the sides of a meal than I normally would so I really like to get creative!  A friend of mine recently made this for a work lunch and it was so delicious that I went back for seconds....on the salad!  Who does that??

As my family gathered for a Pre-Christmas seafood feast I thought it would be a good addition to the meal because clearly with the mussels, salmon, scallops and risotto we needed something else!  It was such a hit that as we were all winding down from an amazing meal I had to add more spinach to the salad to stretch it just far enough for everyone to have a little bit more!

Spinach-Apple Salad with Maple Cider Vinaigrette

Sugar Curried Pecans
6 oz. pecan halves
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

Maple-Cider Vinaigrette
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil

Salad
10 oz. fresh baby spinach
1 gala apple, thinly sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese

For the pecans:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss pecans in butter.  
Stir together sugar and next 4 ingredients in a medium bowl; add pecans, toss to coat.  
Spread in a single layer in a nonstick aluminum foil lined pan.  Bake 10-13 minutes or until toasted and lightly browned.  Cool in a pan for 20 minutes.  Separate pecans with a fork.
For the vinaigrette:
Whisk ingredients together until well blended.
For the salad:
Combine spinach and next 3 ingredients.  Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with pecans and crumbled goat cheese.
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Monday, December 24, 2012

Judy Lowe's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Getting ready for Christmas is always a special time in my house.  It seems the oven is constantly cranking and the dishwasher is always running.  There is rarely a quite moment in the kitchen preparing for all the upcoming festivities.

Each year we have made my great grandmother's recipe for her icebox oatmeal cookies that have been a favorite since I was a child.  This year I thought I would change it up a bit and try a new recipe.  

Judy Lowe has been at the heart of Harpeth Hall since I was a student there.  She has been making the desserts served in the dining hall every day for each and every girl with love and care.  From her legendary tea cakes to these delicious oatmeal cookies I have long since given up trying to pass on her tasty treats!  With her warm smile and open heart, Judy is simply a woman who makes me smile just to be in her presence.  

A few months ago she graciously gave me her recipe for these cookies and I have been holding out on making them for several reasons, not the least of which is I have absolutely no self control when they are in the dining hall and I can only image that would be worse with them in my own home which is why I am giving them away almost as soon as they come out of the oven!

This year Judy's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies will be waiting for Santa as he comes through Nashville!

Merry Christmas and may it be a safe and restful holiday for all!

Judy Lowe's Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/4 cups of butter 
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups of oats
1 (8 oz.) bag milk chocolate morsels

Also, don't melt your butter. 
Start out with room temperature butter and then mix your sugar, egg, and everything else. 
Roll into balls and space evenly on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with cooking spray.
Bake at 325 till just beginning to brown. I always take mine out a little early so you'll just have to play around with it depending on your oven. 
Since there was so much dough, I wrapped the rest in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and put it in the freezer to break out later!
Percy desperately wanted mommy to share the cookies!
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Spanish-style Mussels with Spinach

I am blessed to have so many incredibly wonderful and supportive people in my life.  So many of these friends have been taste testers, recipe finders, and words of encouragement when I needed it most.

None so much as my family.  This group of people truly embodies what it means to put family first.  In some ways the "family" I see every day is a bit unique in that not all the members are actually my "blood relatives".  This group of 10 people come from different parts of the country, different religions and different generations, but there is one common thread and that is the love we share for one another.

Our two families came together almost two decades ago (yep I am dating the eldest sons) when my older brother met one of his now best friends his freshman year in high school.

Since then our families have grown together, loved together, mourned together and supported one another unconditionally.

Since we were all going to be in town for a brief moment in time we decided it was time for Emory to take a trip to see the amazing Christmas lights around Nashville after which the "family" would sit down to a feast together.

The lights were a hit and the food was to die for.  Michael had brought in fresh scallops, mussels and salmon from Pike's Market in Seattle so while one crew took the baby to see Christmas lights the rest of us hung back to get dinner ready.

What a meal it was!

 Back in the kitchen with Michael was a true treat for me and something I had been looking forward to since we made these plans.  Pan seared scallops with browned butter, smoked salmon, baked salmon with tomatoes, shallots and olives, a spinach salad with goat cheese and candied pecans and these......these delicious little treasures!

I am a huge mussels fan....I really like most any kind of shellfish, or really any kind of seafood for that matter, but never have I had mussels that melts in your mouth quite like these!  Absolute perfection!
With a heart full of love and gratitude one thing I am most thankful for this holiday season and all year long is the love and devotion shared between the Huggins and Jones'.  Much love to you all!

Spanish-style Mussels with Spinach

2 lbs Mussels
2 jalapeno peppers
1 lime
1.5 c coconut milk (unsweetened)
10 oz frozen spinach 
1 bunch cilantro (optional)
2 cups diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
1/4 cup fresh oregano
1 cup vegetable stock
Pinch black pepper

Scrub mussels under cold running water, discard any open or with broken shells.
Wash and slice jalapenos in half, removing seeds. (wear gloves to do this)
Wash and zest the lime, and cut it in half.
In a medium pot, add coconut milk and greens, cook 3-5 minutes until the greens thaw and separate. 
Stir in cilantro if using, jalapenos, and lime zest. Squeeze the lime juice into the pot. Add the tomatoes, oregano and pepper and bring to a simmer. 
I added about a cup of vegetable stock to mine to thin it out a little bit.
Add the mussels, stir, and cover the pot.  
Let cook 4-6 minutes until the mussels have opened - discard any which don't open.
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Monday, December 17, 2012

Egg Nog Cakes

I remember as a child the seat where I sat every night for dinner.  It was the back seat on a round table for four.  The only one in a corner, ha, perhaps that was fitting, but it was all mine.

I sat in a different chair, my mom's chair, to do my homework after school, and I sat in my brother's chair for Sunday dinners when he was away at college as I refused to let just my parents and me eat at the dining room table without him.

But my seat in the corner was perfect, it was a comfort zone for me, absolutely surrounded by my family, but there was a specific time every year where it was my prison.

You see growing up my brother, my parents and I would spend an entire afternoon making my great-grandmother's teetotaling friend's recipe for  "egg nog cakes".  Named so because this friend didn't want people to know she actually drank whiskey but to put it under the disguise of "egg nog" which everyone seemed to understand contained whiskey was not a problem!
Ahhhh the hipocracy of our past, but for many it worked.

Allen and I would bring in a picnic table bench from the back porch, assemble the old meat grinder on it and start grinding the vanilla wafers with the pecans while mom would be making a huge mess on the other counter combining what seemed like pounds of butter and confectioner's sugar with a "splash" of whiskey for the icing, all the while Dad seemed to be increasingly consumed by the ever growing pile of cubed angel food cake.

We all had our part to play in preparation, but it was when we all found our seats back at the table that the fun truly began.

With Alvin and the Chipmunks serenading our labors Mom and Dad would ice each and every piece of angel food cake after which Allen and I would roll them in the crumbs for coating.

After a while, and I am not sure if this was the enthusiasm of the season or the fumes from the whiskey, but after a while the angel food cake found a variety of ways to the bins of crumbs Allen and I had in front of us.

Whether it was a direct shot between the eyes or a near miss that would hit the wall behind one of us there was always a cheer of laughter that followed.  This entire time I was trapped in the prison of my seat in the corner....it was hysterical!

The kitchen would be covered in icing, crumbs and confectioner's sugar by the time we were finished but in its wake a lifetime of memories were made, memories that remain in my heart every day.

Since these are rather time consuming to make and we don't always have the man power to make a enormous batch these days we haven't actually made them as a family in 10 years.  This year was different.  This year we planned ahead, we put the baby down for a nap and all came together to make our egg nog cakes on a Sunday afternoon.

With the addition of my beloved sister-in-law we were able to make a double batch and carry on the memories of my youth with the additions of our present.

The great thing about memories is that they get better as you carry them forward and combine the past and the present.  It was a true gift to have my family gathered around the table again making one of my favorite treats to pass on to others.

A huge thanks to my mom, my dad, my brother and my sister-in-law for helping make this post happen but the biggest thanks, to my nephew Emory for taking a really long nap providing us enough time to make these without chasing around a 2 year old!

Egg Nog Cakes
Given to my mom by Ruth Allen in December 1985 
but the recipe has been in the Gordon family since the 1920s
32 oz. angle food cake, cubed
1 (12 oz.) box vanilla wafers
12 oz. pecan halves
2 (16 oz.) boxes confectioners sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) butter
3/4 cup Jack Daniels whiskey

Cube the angel food cake.  
 In a meat grinder grind up the vanilla wafers and pecan halves. 
In a food processor blend together the butter, confectioners sugar and whiskey until smooth. 
Get the assembly line ready...this is definitely a multiple person job for sure! 
Ice each side of the cubes of angel food cake and roll each piece in the ground vanilla wafers and pecans. 
As you can tell, this is NOT a clean process...
 Place in an air tight container separating each layer with wax paper.
Maggie had to taste some of it just for research purposes of course!
Give them away as presents, keep them for your own tasty treats or have them for breakfast when the holiday season gets to be just too much!
From my family to yours, Merry Christmas!!
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Friday, December 14, 2012

Egg Nog Fudge

When my brother and I were little one of our favorite holiday treats was Purity Egg Nog wth Reddi Whip piled on top!

If I close my eyes I can image the two of us sitting on the couch in the den of the house where I grew up with a roaring fire in the fireplace to my right, the Muppets Christmas Carol on the television (VHS of course) and the reflection of the Christmas tree in the fogged over window panes reflecting the lights on the tree in the room behind me.  

For a brief moment I can smell the strong fragrance of the pine tree adorning the living room, I can hear the crackling of the fire beside me and taste the delicious vanilla goodness of the egg nog.

These are the warm memories that bring Christmas alive for me once more.  It isn't the presents or the hustle and bustle around me, it is the memories I carry with me, the tradition we maintain and the love that permeates the season.  

The memories my brother and I made as children are the basis for many of these.

My brother and I were partners in crime as children. 

When I was too little to climb out of my crib as a baby, he was there to catapult me to freedom. 

While he was checking the living room chimney for Santa's arrival I was on the lookout to make sure Mom or Dad didn't wake during our mission.

There are a million stories I could tell of the crazy adventures and mishaps in which we became entangled as kids, but that is for another post on another day!

What made this recipe bring back a wave of sentiment for me was the egg nog.  The vision of the two of us sitting on the couch, our feet no where near touching the floor let alone clearing the edge of the couch, enjoying our seasonal dessert with the filter of innocence only a child can bring to the heart of Christmas. 
Merry Christmas to everyone and may the warmth of the season embrace you all!

Egg Nog Fudge
2 cups granulated white sugar
1/2 cup salted butter
3/4 cup dairy eggnog
10.5 ounces white chocolate bars, chopped into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus a little more for the top of the fudge
One 7-ounce jar marshmallow creme
3 tablespoons rum

Line an 8 or 9-inch square pan with foil and let it hang over the sides. Butter the foil.
In a heavy, 3-quart saucepan combine sugar, butter and eggnog.   
Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Continue boiling 8 to 10 minutes over medium heat or until a candy thermometer reaches 234°F, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remove from heat.
Using a wooden spoon, work quickly to stir in chopped white chocolate and nutmeg until chocolate is melted and smooth. 
Stir in marshmallow creme and rum extract. 
Beat until well blended and then pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle a little freshly ground nutmeg on top. Let stand at room temperature until cooled. Refrigerate if you'd like to speed up the process.
When completely cool, cut into squares. Store in a covered container.
 After a long day of fudge-making my darling Jennifer and I were pooped....but with enough fudge to last us until next Christmas!! 
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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bacon Wrapped Dates

I am often asked what are some of my favorite recipes to cook for parties and though I have my favorites I have made for years, there are those recipes that I have only recently started trying that have become staples in my appetizer repetoire!

One such recipe is for bacon wrapped dates.  There are a million variations as to how you can make these but I like to keep it simple as the dates and bacon really speak for themselves.

There is a little assembly required but it will be totally worth it when you serve these to your guests!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates
1 1/2 pounds thick cut bacon
2 pounds Medjool Dates
2 packages slivered almonds

Cut each piece of bacon in half.  Stuff each date with several slivered almonds.  Wrap each date with a half piece of bacon and secure it with a toothpick.
Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Space the bacon wrapped dates evenly on the baking sheet.  Cook in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until the bacon is cooked. Be sure no to burn the bottoms by cooking too long!
That's it!  That is all you have to do!

I have heard that this is delicious stuffed with Parmesan too so I imagine any kind of cheese would be delicious shoved down in there!  Get crazy and experiment but please don't forget to let me know how it turns out!!!
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Monday, December 10, 2012

Caesar Salad


Oh the Caesar salad.....my favorite!  I have long been an afficionado of Caesar salads and can, as a general rule, tell how the food is going to be at a restaurant based on their Caesar salad.  

This is by far my favorite salad.  

The dressing must not be too thick, but not runny. The lettuce needs to be cool and crisp and the croutons just have to be present!  

I am a huge fan of homemade salad dressings and typically do not like any dressing that comes from a bottle (as many of my friends will attest ).  When I started looking through the Two Dudes One Pan cookbook that I have already mentioned in this blog, I came across this recipe and knew it had potential.  It called for all the right ingredients, the raw egg yolk, the anchovies and the Parmesan cheese!  Of course that "potential" quickly became what I now know as my favorite Caesar dressing.

Real Caesar Dressing
(According to Two Dudes One Pan)

1 large egg yolk
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 anchovy fillet, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallot
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Whisk the egg yolk with the garlic, anchovy, shallot, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Tabasco, mustard salt and pepper in a large bowl. 
While whisking, drizzle in three quarters of the oil and then whisk in the vinegar and the cheese. 
Taste the dressing and add more oil if you prefer a thinner Caesar dressing. 
Refrigerate until serving. 
(Because of the raw eggs, this dressing must be used the same day that it is 
made.)
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Friday, December 7, 2012

Pa's Oyster Stew

My Pa was an amaze man for a million reasons I barely new until after he died.  I have written about him often and think about him all the time but one thing that is a special memory for me is his Oyster Stew.  

As a general practice, Pa was not the cook in the family.  According to my mother he didn't even really man the grill all that often.  

He strengths were simply in other arenas.

One dish he cooked, and cooked well, was his oyster stew that he would make for us each Thanksgiving Day as we prepared the feast that was to come later that night.
He would combine the ingredients, stirring with gleaful pride in his accomplishment.  The smile on his face was infectious.

We would sit around my grandparents small kitchen table, hold hands and say a prayer then dig into Pa's delicious creation.

It is moments just like this one that I remember about this great legend.  To others he was decorated sports writer, a brilliant mind that could pull any high school athletic stat from decades past, and  gentleman who mentored so many now leaders of our great city.

To me, he was a man who silently, and ever so gracefully supported his family, with his beloved wife by his side raised three incredible children, threw snowballs with his grandchildren in the yard and taught us all the meaning of true love.

He was my Pa and I will forever be grateful for the 26 years I knew and loved this man!

When it comes to food and how he pertains to this blog, here is my Pa's contribution!  

I love you!


Pa's Oyster Stew

2 pints raw oysters
1 stick margarine
1 cup half and half
2 quarts milk
salt and pepper to taste
½ t. garlic salt
3 drops Tabasco
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce


Melt margarine in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add raw oysters (cut in two if oysters are too large) and sauté oysters until they begin to curl. 
Add remaining ingredients, stirring occasionally and heat over low to medium heat until hot. 
Serve with oyster crackers, and a dollop of
cocktail sauce, if desired.
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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pots de Creme with Homemade Whipped Cream

One of my favorite parts about the South is that recipes are passed down, around and throughout the region like a currency carrying with it the history and traditions of that particular area.  

Something I have enjoyed doing since I was in college traveling all over the great state of Georgia, visiting friend's homes and seeing the different small towns, is to pick up cookbooks in whatever little shop I find myself and see how they make chicken salad.

I know it sounds silly but it is one of those basic southern recipes that seems to be made a million different ways and still tastes perfect every single time.

One such "series" of cookbooks that I always loved to stumble upon were the Junior League cookbooks.  Always the creme de la creme of local recipes, these seemed to be the tried-and-true, the staples of that particular area.  In each of these cookbooks there was a specific way to make chicken salad and serve it with just the right presentation, whether in a phyllo cup or stuffed in a hollowed out tomato, all of which I was certain would be divine!

In each of these cookbooks I find recipes I have no problem trying as I know they will be delicious.  One such recipe is the Pots de Creme recipe from Decatur, AL Cotton Country Cooking Junior League Cookbook.  

Passed around through generations, this recipe found its way to my kitchen through my friend, Kaylee, who originally got the recipe from her friend Sydney's grandmother, Jane McDonald, aka "Nana". 

It is these paths a recipe can take that make me think of a feather flitting through a weeping willow that makes me truly love the simplicity and dedication with which the South treasures and shares its most delicious recipes.

Pots de Creme
Serves 4
l egg
l 6-ounce package semisweet chocolate morsels
l teaspoon vanilla
l teaspoon instant coffee
dash of salt
l pat of butter
2/3 cup milk (heated just to boiling)
Topping: whipped cream** and chocolate shavings

Put all but last three ingredients in a blender. 
 Add hot milk and blend for one minute until thoroughly blended.  Pour into pots de creme and chill for several hours. Add topping just before serving.
(I double the recipe and it will serve 10 in my small pots de creme containers.)
**To make the whipped cream you will need:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a chilled bowl with a chilled whisk, vigorously whisk the cream into peaks.  I use my KitchenAid mixer with the whisk attachment.  You can also use a hand-held mixer to do this just make sure the metal bowl you are using is chilled and the beaters are as well, if possible.  
The trick to making this perfect is a chilled bowl and chilled whisk.
Pour the cream into the metal bowl and turn on whisk to high.  Let whisk until peaks begin to form.  
Add the vanilla and sugar.   
Do not over beat as it will make the whipped cream grainy.  
 Top each pots de creme with a large dollup of whipped cream.  After a long day the tree was trimmed, the pots de creme ready and we were on our way to getting into the Christmas spirit! 

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Monday, December 3, 2012

Grit Fritters

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I was recently in Atlanta for a quick trip and was able to have dinner with some dear friends including my old roomie, Will Beasley.   

I have mentioned Will before in a number of my posts including the bacon wrapped shrimp and his "Sausage Party"dip.  The two of us have been cooking together for almost a decade and it only gets more entertaining with time.

We were quite the team in the kitchen when we lived together.  Both loving to try new recipes, most great successes, but some hysterical follies.  We would laugh, grab a beer, sit on the counters and figure out what we were doing in life, and sometimes what life was doing to us.

Being back in the kitchen with Will was like coming home again.  

Some friends just never skip a beat and it is like you move in unison, you skip the small talk and go right into what means the most and in the end find yourself several bottles of wine deep with not a world problem unsolved...at least until the morning when the biggest concern is how long will it take the coffee to brew!

For this most recent meal Will said he was going to try to make some grit fritters....deep frying grits?  Yes please!

They turned out even better than I could have imagined if that was even possible!

Will's Grit Fritters

1 c. of stone ground grits
4 c. liquid (I did 1 c. half & half and 3 c. water)
Pinch of salt (to taste)
10 oz. boursin and/or cream cheese
Flour
Eggs/Milk for eggwash
Panko Bread Crumbs
Vegetable Oil for frying

Cook grits according to instructions. I wouldn't recommend doing more cream than the 1 to 3 proportions above because they're hard to form into balls for frying if they're too creamy. For this reason, I also wouldn't add too much butter to grits, if any. (Normally, if I were just making grits, butter would be imperative). Once grits are cooked, remove from heat but while still hot, stir in the boursin and/or cream cheese (I used shallot and chive boursin and because I didn't want the fritters to be too herby, I used one 5.2 oz. wheel of that and then half a block of cream cheese).

Once grits and cheese are fully incorporated, cool the grits completely. Use the refrigerator or freezer if you're running short on time, but the grits need to be completely cooled and somewhat solidified for rolling into balls. Begin to heat oil in heavy pot or dutch oven (cast iron preferable) to approximately 375 degrees. 
Once cooled enough, roll small handful of grits into small balls about the size of a ping pong ball. Set aside until ready to start battering.
Dip grits fritters into the following: flour, then egg wash, then panko breadcrumbs. Fry in batches until golden brown on all sides, about 3-4 minutes on each side. 
Remove from pot with slotted spoon and drain over wire rack and paper towels. 
Once drained of excess oil and cool enough to handle, serve with dipping sauce of your choice. We served some with a sriracha mayonaise and others drizzled with honey. Both were excellent.
So creamy and delicious!!

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Swiss on Rye

In my family we have our favorites....we like to try new things but when it comes down to it on birthdays or special occasions we usually stick with what we know we love!  This is one of those old recipes that truly shows our German roots much like another one of our favorites, triscuits and onions.  

I never thought about it much growing up but my maternal grandmother always used mustard instead of mayonnaise and ALWAYS used rye bread instead of white or wheat.  

It wasn't really anything I ever questioned, it was just the way it was.  The same can be said for the Hershey kisses and original Lays potato chips my paternal grandparents always had in their pantry....it is just how it was!

This is one of the recipes that my grandmother would just throw together as we were all standing in the kitchen chatting, like it was just something that was second nature to her, almost like no one noticed she was even doing it until they came, crispy and bubbly, out of the oven. 

Simple, yes, but that doesn't take anything away from the deliciousness that is our "Swiss on Rye's".

Swiss on Rye
Seedless Rye Bread
Sliced Swiss Cheese
butter (you can use margarine if you choose but I prefer butter)
Spicy mustard

Lay the slices of bread on a baking sheet and spread with a layer of butter and a layer of mustard.  Cut the pieces of bread into 6 or 8 equal parts.  
Place a small piece of swiss cheese on top of each piece of bread.  Broil until the cheese is gold and bubbly.  Be sure not to burn them!
Serve right out of the oven!
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Spiced Whiskey Cider

Well it is that time of year again!

Family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays and in the midst of loving, laughing, and being thankful for one another we are all doing one very important thing.....looking for the bar!

Well look no further than this delicious, and festive, wintertime cocktail!  

Maggie recently came across this recipe and we thought we would try it for the Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving...strictly for experimentation purposes of course!

We dumped all the ingredients in a crockpot, except for the whiskey which we added just before serving as we wouldn't want the alcohol to cook out or anything, and let this delicious concoction simmer for a while.  

When we add the whiskey, poured them in our mugs and started sipping we soon realized that they were dangerously delectable and incredibly potent. 

I realized I was in trouble when someone asked how many I had consumed and I confidently stated that I had only had one.  Well in fact I had only filled my glass in its entirety once....however, since it is so much better hot, I kept adding a ladle full here and a ladle full there, just to warm it up of course.....well after that who knows what my count was, but I was warm and cozy on the inside so who really cared!

Honeycrisp & Bourbon Spiced Cider

6 cups honeycrisp cider (or any apple cider of your choice)
peel of 1 lemon (removing all the pith)
10 whole cloves
3 star anise
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1 teaspoon light brown sugar (optional)
2 cups bourbon
garnish:
2 honeycrisp apples (or sweet apples of your choice), thinly sliced crosswise (about
1/4 inch)

Place cider, lemon peel, cloves, star anise, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and sugar into a medium pot and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 10 minutes, cover, remove from heat, and steep for 1 hour. Place mixture over stove again and heat through until warmed.
Strain mixture and stir in bourbon.
To serve: Using a 1 ½ -2 inch circle cutter, cut star centers out from the thin slices of apple and remove any remaining seeds. Pour cider into individual mugs and top with “stary” apple cut outs and serve.
In our family you can have whiskey any way you like it!

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Monday, November 26, 2012

Matt's Chocolate Chip Cookies

I recently heard from a senior in high school state while giving a speech at our annual Thanksgiving assembly that she is thankful to constantly find magic in the mundane.  She urged everyone to take a chance to look at those moments in their every day lives when some thing truly special happens.  Whether it is hearing your favorite song on the radio, a beautiful fall day or a hug from a friend, find the magic in the mundane.

Where I find that magic is in my friendships.  My friends are magic for me.  They can make any day special, they can bring a smile to my face no matter what kind of mood I find myself, and they are the heart of my heart and the center of my world.

What is truly amazing to me is that I am so blessed to have not only friends I have known and loved for over 25 years, but I also have dear friends who mean so much to me and bring so much to my life and I have only known them for a short while.  

I guess this is what she meant by finding magic in the mundane.  Not that friendships are mundane but so often we take those friendships for granted and during this holiday season I want to relish every moment with all the people I love.  Friends old and new alike are dear to my heart and I am grateful!

One such new friend, my dear Matt, recently made these chocolate chip cookies and I must say I can be a bit of a chocolate chip cookie snob but these knocked my socks off!

Perfectly cooked so the bottom didn't even have a crispy rump and so deliciously gooey that they were as close to my favorite Christie Cookie as I have ever had!  I was in heaven!  They truly epic in ever sense of the word.

Matt's Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups plus 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup Crisco
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon water
Chocolate chips

Soft together the flour, salt and baking soda.  
Add remaining ingredients.  
Stir...at this point you may need to use your hands....get aggressive to make sure all the crisco is incorporated.  
Roll into golfball size balls and place several inches apart.

Bake at 375 for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and dip fingers in a bowl of water and press lightly on each cookie to flatten slightly.  
Eat and enjoy!!!

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Nicoll's Sweet Potato Casserole

Sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving have typically been covered in tiny marshmallows and always the subject of the "crap, did I burn them" moment in the kitchen at that crucial time when the marshmallows are to be melted and browned but certainly not crispy (aka burnt).

They have not always been the star of my Thanksgiving plate, not even really in the bull pin of the spotlight for me, but for whatever reason, one clearly beyond my realm of knowledge, they are a must have each and every year!

This year, since no one jumped at the gun to make them I thought I would change it up a bit and make the sweet potatoes my best friend, Nicoll, had previously made for our Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving dinner.  They were delicious!!! So much so that when we were dividing up the leftovers I grabbed as many bags as I could to put in my freezer so I could pull them out later in the winter for a delicious dinner.

I thought surely no one would notice or care, after all it didn't seem like I had heard anyone discuss them as their "favorite" menu item in the past.  Nothing close to the gravy or even how passionately my uncle loves the jellied cranberry sauce that coves out of the can.

I thought I was safe with this small menu change.

I was sadly and sorely mistaken.  As I sat down to dinner my cousin sat next to me and with a perplexed look on his face he started scooting his food around like he was looking for something.  He suddenly looked up at me and asked "Where are the marshmallows".  This is not a 6 year old we are talking about here, this is my 26 year old cousin, but everyone has their thing and evidently the marshmallows were his.

A few moments later his brother sat down on the other side of me and asked the SAME question!  My aunt and I burst into laughter as we had never known how much they loved those little puffs of sugar!  

Alas these sweet potatoes were acceptable as well seeing as they did have crumbled gingersnaps on top but for future reference I must remember that if I am going to change up the sweet potatoes I had better throw some marshmallows on there for good measure!

Nicoll's Sweet Potato Casserole
6 sweet potatoes
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cold butter, cut into pieces
32 coarsley crushed gingersnap cookies

Cook sweet potatoes in Dutch oven in boiling water to cover over medium heat 30 minutes or until tender.  Cool; peel and mash potatoes.  Combine mashed sweet potatoes, 1/2 cup brown sugar and next 4 ingredients in a mixing bowl, beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth (or mash with potato masher until smooth).   Spoon into a greased 2 1/2 quart or 13x9-inch baking dish.  Combine 1/2 cup brown sugar and flour.  Cut in 1/4 cup cold butter with pastry blender until crumbly.  Stir in crushed gingersnaps.  Sprinkle streusel over sweet potatoes.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until streusel is lightly browned.  
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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Memories

I recently saw a post on a food blog I follow about clover rolls.  They are a fun way to change up the typical dinner roll but the second I saw that photo I was immediately transported back to cooking in my grandmother's kitchen the Wednesday before Thanksgiving preparing all our usual menu items.  This was something we did every year that became my favorite Thanksgiving tradition. 

We would start with the dough for her delicious homemade rolls and while that was rising we would start in on making the pumpkin pies.  At some point, before the kitchen was completely covered in flour, my grandfather would come into the kitchen and make his famous oyster stew.  We would all sit down at their tiny kitchen table, say a blessing and enjoy a relaxing, thoughtful meal together. 

After lunch we would get back to work and each year my grandmother would have something new she would want to try.  One year it was melting butter and then pouring it into rose molds so that the butter served with the rolls would look like roses.  Another time she decided she wanted to try and make radish roses....I guess she has a thing for roses!  Maybe that had something to do with their time at Churchill Downs....who knows!  This is where you take a radish, cut off the bottom tip and then, with a pairing knife, make slits all around the top so that as it "blooms" in ice cold water the "pedals" with flay out from the center. 

It is all about presentation after all!

One year, as we were taking the risen dough from the bowl, getting ready to roll it out for dinner rolls, Gramma said she wanted to try something different that year.  This was a bold statement as many in our family didn't care if nothing more was served at Thanksgiving besides the rolls....should they be any different we might have an angry mob on our hands.

She told me how she had seen her mother, Mom Gordon, make the rolls this particular way once before.  Instead of cutting the rolls with a cookie cutter, we rolled them into small balls just smaller than a fist, placed them in our hands and squeezed a small portion through the opening between out thumbs and index fingers.  You do this three times and place three small balls of dough in a muffin tin so that when they rise they look like clovers.  Hints the name "Clover Rolls".

There was a gleam in her eye, a certain expression on her face that made me see my grandmother not as the matriarch of our family, but as the young girl she once was, sitting on a stool like I had done in her kitchen a million times before, watching her mother prepare these same rolls for a generation of my family I barely knew. 

It was s surreal moment and one that I will never forget. 

There were many such memories such as these in the small kitchen my sweet grandmother referred to as a "one-ass kitchen" - I was 100% floored when my petite-always polite-never say a mean word about anyone-let alone say a curse word grandmother dropped that one on me!

As the years have past and time marches on I find myself now the mentor in the kitchen to my curious young cousins who help me make pancakes and pumpkin bread and am always delighted to hear my almost two year old nephew come up beside me by the stove saying "STIR!" It is then that I pick him up, stand before a pot of something and together we "STIR!" 

As it was in the past so too shall it be again.

Maybe it is the reason cooking is so cathartic for me.  Perhaps it is what takes me back to memories of comfort, love and sharing.  For these memories and all the time I have shared with those I love in my kitchen I am eternally grateful!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!!
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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My Favorite Turkey Brine

I posted this recipe last year when I did my Pre-Thanksgiving Thanksgiving post but this year I realized that I have made some adjustments to that recipe that I wanted to share with you.  Nothing too dramatic, just a few variations from my beloved Pioneer Woman's recipe.

Here it is dear readers

My Favorite Turkey Brine
as adapted from The Pioneer Woman


3 cups Apple Cider Vinegar
2 gallons Cold Water
4 Tablespoons Fresh Rosemary Leaves
5 cloves Garlic, Minced
1-1/2 cup Kosher Salt
2 cups Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Peppercorns
5 whole Bay Leaves
Three Large Oranges, quartered

Combine all ingredients in a large pot. Stir until salt and sugar dissolve. 
Bring to a boil, then turn off heat and cover.
Allow to cool completely, then pour into a large brining bag or pot. Place uncooked turkey in brine solution, then refrigerate for 16 to 24 hours.
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Thanksgiving Day Desserts

Why is it that after such an enormous meal we feel the need to still have dessert?  Maybe it is the same reason that I feel the need to have lunch only an hour after I have had breakfast....after all, we are supposed to have three meals a day...everyday!  

Who knows but in any case dessert is a must at Thanksgiving dinner.  If you have been reading my blog long I am sure you have noticed that I rarely bake and if there are desserts posted on my humble Food Gospel they are typically recipes someone else has shared with me.  

Alas, I love to make a good dessert every now and then and Thanksgiving is just such a time!  Here are some of my favorites that I hope you enjoy!

Much love to you all and HAPPY almost THANKSGIVING!!

 
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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Turkey Options!


There are really a million ways to cook the perfect turkey....there are also a million and one ways to ruin a perfectly good bird!  When it comes to the Thanksgiving turkey here are my favorite option....plus my favorite gravy recipe!

I must give fair warning and plead with you that frying a turkey is a delicious way to cook the bird but you MUST know what you are doing, you have to be paying attention (and by that I mean sober) and please, for the love of all that is good on this earth, please keep children away from the hot grease!

My dear friend, Reed, has fried several turkeys for us over the years and every time he does it I am convinced there is no better way to cook the bird but there is one enormous piece missing from this puzzle...the drippings for the gravy.  As this is a must in our family we usually roast the turkey in the oven but if your family is freakishly obsessed with gravy like mine I highly suggest this option....or you can do what I am going to do this year and that is HAVE BOTH!!
Fried Turkey
 
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