Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 in Review

What's that saying?  The one about the best laid plans?  That's pretty much been my life this year.  And for a control freak such as myself, it's a hard pill to swallow.  From some minor setbacks/family illnesses in December that resulted in me publishing a whopping three posts this month, to some potentially stressful developmental issues with my sweet Henry, to just well, life.  Try as we might to control and plan our lives down to the minute, we just can't.


This was the year that I had to learn to surrender myself to a higher power and realize that it will all be okay.  Even if I don't get the ending or story I think I want or plan for myself, and it's a lesson I needed to learn.  My problems and stresses were on a much smaller scale than those of some of my friends and family, so I've also been dealt a healthy dose of perspective this year.  Perhaps that's another character trait I needed.


Overall though, this has been a pretty wonderful year, and I definitely shouldn't complain.  Watching the kids grow and learn, traveling, spending time with friends and family…. it's all been great.  And speaking of great, it's been a pretty great food year as well.  I had the opportunity to eat at some truly fantastic restaurants all over the country, and I cooked up some pretty delicious food in my own kitchen here in Georgia.  So without further ado, here are some standouts of the year (based on both popularity and my own personal favorites).

If I had to choose the dish of 2014, this Grilled Summer Vegetable Chopped Salad wins, hands down.  I made this at least once a week for the entirety of the summer, and so many of you loved it as well.  I'm officially counting down the days until I can make it again.  Maybe in the meantime, I should come up with a roasted winter veggie version…

BBQ Turkey Meatballs over Cheddar-Corn Quinoa were also a huge fan favorite.  Healthy, hearty, and quick and easy, this meal has it all.

Keeping in the "healthy" realm, I was head over heels for this Deconstructed Falafel Salad, and you guys loved it too.  So filling and refreshing, this makes a great lunch, or a light dinner with some grilled chicken or shrimp on the side.

This was apparently the Year of the Salad, because this Vietnamese Style Pork and Rice Noodle Salad was another big hit.  I'm still dreaming about that salad… methinks it will be a great healthy dinner for the new year…

And now to move in the complete opposite direction, I give you Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes.  These are slap your momma good, and a definite indulgence.  You'll never want to eat regular mashed potatoes again.

As usual, Mexican food was super popular with you  guys this year too.  I started the year off with Tequila-Braised Short Rib Enchiladas.  They've since become a staple for us, and I know you guys loved them just as much.

Tequila-Infused Chorizo Queso Fundido was also a hit.  Unsurprisingly.  This is totally happening on New Year's Eve.

Mexican food can be healthy too, and these Chipotle Turkey-Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms are a great example of that.  This was actually the most popular post of the year, and for good reason.  Loved these guys, and I'm thinking about making an appetizer-sized version of these for New Year's Eve.

And to conclude the Mexican portion of this post, I bring you margaritas.  This was definitely a fun year of margarita making, and while I absolutely loved every single flavor I made, apple-habanero topped the list for you guys.  If I had to choose MY favorite, I think I'd go with Watermelon Margaritas.  There are many reasons that I can't wait for summer's return, and these margaritas definitely top my list!

To round out the favorite meals, this Skillet-Baked Tex-Mex Macaroni was a huge hit in my family and yours.  This is seriously one of my favorite meals of all time, and you guys seemed to love it just as much.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.

And because they are just so pretty, I have to share these Blood Orange Cosmopolitans.  I'm already stalking the grocery store for the return of my beloved blood oranges just so I can enjoy these.  Soon!

Other great recipes worth mentioning:
Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispies Treats.  My go-to dessert.
Creamy Chicken and Wild Rice Soup with Bacon. A big bowl of love.
Oreo Truffle Brownies. No words needed.
Baked Penne with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Goat Cheese. Pasta = love.
Savory Pimento Cheese Macarons. Mind blowing.
BLT Pizza. Long live the BLT
Low Country Grill. Summer.
Hatch Chile Huevos Rancheros. Fiesta in the morning.
Grilled Fish Tacos with Grilled Pineapple Salsa. Fiesta in the evening.
Short Rib and Wild Mushroom Cheesesteaks. They're fancy.
Chicken Florentine. Comfort.
Spicy Chicken with Sweet Potato, Black Bean, and Cranberry Salsa. Healthy and easy.
Sausage and Cheese Biscuits. Family favorite.

Thanks so much for reading along this year, and thanks so much for all the sweet comments, messages, and emails.  I hope you and yours have a wonderful time ringing in 2015.  See you on the other side!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Crockpot Beef and Barley Soup

Crockpot Beef and Barley Soup

Oh boy.  The past week in our house has been pretty miserable.  Tuesday morning, Tucker was sent home from school with a fever.  Wednesday, he was diagnosed with the flu.  Thursday morning, Henry was sent home with a fever, and the flu followed.  Saturday afternoon, Joey and I both succumbed to the flu.  Not fun.  Knocking on wood, but so far Caroline and Smith are healthy.  And we hope to keep them that way.

Have you and/or your family gotten sick yet this year?  It's a doozy!  So I have a recommendation for you.  Make a big pot of this beef and barley soup.  Eat some, then freeze some.  So if/when you get sick, you have something nourishing and comforting to eat without any work.

My sweet friend Katy dropped off some chicken and orzo soup to us this afternoon, and it was so very much appreciated by my whole family.  We've been subsisting on take-out, crackers, and applesauce; thus, a filling and healthy meal was a treat.  So I have another suggestion.  Make a big pot of this soup.  Split it in half, and then take half to a friend who's sick.  I know you have a sick friend who could use this, no?  Tis the season for giving, and all.

Oh, and about this soup?  It's really very good.  Tender beef, a rich broth, and filling barley.  This soup far exceeded our expectations.  It takes only minutes to prepare, and the payoff is huge. This immediately became one of our favorites soups, and I'm already planning to make it again very soon… to share with friends, of course.

Crockpot Beef and Barley Soup

Crockpot Beef and Barley Soup
adapted from The Make-Ahead Cook
serves 6 to 8

  • 2 medium white or yellow onions, chopped fine
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 2-3 lbs beef blade roast, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 4 chunks
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley, for serving
In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the onions, tomato paste, oil, thyme, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Stir well to combine and microwave for 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened.  Transfer to the slow cooker.

Stir in the tomatoes, beef broth, chicken broth, carrots, soy sauce, wine, and barley.  Generously season the beef with salt and pepper and nestle it into the slow cooker.

Cover and cook until the beef is tender, 9 to 10 hours on low, or 6 to 7 hours on high.

Carefully transfer the beef to a cutting board.  When it's cool enough to handle, shred into bite-sized pieces with 2 forks, discarding any fat.  

Use a large spoon to skim any fat from the surface of the soup.  Stir in the shredded beef and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the parsley and serve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Skillet Chicken Shepherd's Pie

Skillet Chicken Shepherd's Pie

I've never been a big fan of shepherd's pie.  I don't have a good reason other than it's… just not my thing I guess.  But when I saw this version of shepherd's pie in the new Cook's Country Magazine, I couldn't resist.  I mean, look at those potatoes!  Look at that filling!  It's basically a chicken pot pie topped with buttery potatoes, then baked.  Nothing wrong with that, eh?

This shepherd's pie varies from the classic version in that it uses chicken instead of lamb (duh), but also in the potatoes.  Typically, a shepherd's pie is topped with mashed potatoes.  But in my experience, they often get dried out in the oven.  This version simply tosses cooked potatoes in butter, salt, and pepper, then spoons them over the filling.  An egg wash gives them a nice crispy top and pretty golden color, and I promise you this is world's better than dried out gummy mashed potatoes.

This was a huge hit with my whole family, and it's definitely becoming a new favorite in my house.  As we hunker down for what is sure to be a long, cold winter, I'm happy to have this comforting, delicious recipe in my repertoire.

Skillet Chicken Shepherd's Pie

Chicken Shepherd's Pie
barely adapted from Cook's Country, December/January 2015

  • 2 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 Tbs unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp minced fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry or dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2 Tbs cornstarch
  • 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 Tbs water
Adjust the oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat to 375 degrees F.  

Pat the chicken dry and season both sides generously with salt and pepper.  Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in an oven safe 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the chicken in 2-3 batches, about 5 minutes per side, or until the chicken is well-borwned.  Transfer to a plate and pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet.

Return the skillet to heat and add the onions, carrots, and a large pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring often, until they are just softening, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme and cook an additional 30 seconds.  Stir in the sherry and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 1-2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Stir in the broth.

Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet, skin-side up.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover.  Cook until the chicken registers 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 12 to 14 minutes.  

Remove the skillet from heat and use tongs to transfer the chicken to a clean plate.  Once he chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it into bite-sized pieces, discarding the skin and bones.

Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with about 1 inch of water.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a strong simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 10-12 minutes.  

Drain the potatoes and return to the pot.  Return the pot to the stove and cook over low heat, stirring gently, until all of the water has evaporated.  This will only take about 1 minute or so.  Remove from heat and gently stir in remaining 5 tablespoons of butter, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.  Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.  Cover and set aside to keep warm.

Whisk the cornstarch together with 3 tablespoons of water.  Return the skillet with the broth and vegetables to the stovetop and bring to a boil.  Slowly whisk in the cornstarch  mixture, and cook until the thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.  Remove from heat, stir in the peas, lemon juice, and shredded chicken, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon the potatoes over the entire surface of the filling.  Brush the potatoes with the egg.  

Bake in the oven until the pie is bubbling, about 15 minutes.  Turn the oven to broil and cook until the potatoes are golden-brown, 3 to 5 minutes.  Cool for 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sparkly Cranberry-Apple Jellies

Sparkly Cranberry-Apple Jellies 

You know how you finish a big meal, and are super stuffed and full, but you just want something small and sweet?  Just me?  Well, these sparkly little jellies are the perfect small treat.  Just sweet enough to be satisfying, but tart enough to be a nice little palate cleanser.  The perfect ending to a big meal.  Or the perfect little snack to give your guests as they leave.

I really love making candy -- it makes me feel like I'm back in the chemistry lab (nerd alert!).  But I realize that a lot of you are intimidated by it.  Don't be.  Just buy a candy thermometer; they're really inexpensive, and invaluable when it comes to confections.

These jellies are really simple and straightforward, and look how pretty!  They taste like a fancy fruit snack, and I mean that in the best way possible!  If I were a fancy-party-throwing type of person, I'd totally make these to pass out to guests as they left.

Tis the season for sweets and treats, and here's to having a fun and sophisticated recipe in your back pocket!

Sparkly Cranberry-Apple Jellies
slightly adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2014

The jellies can be made and chilled a few days ahead of time, but roll in sugar just before serving.  They quickly absorb the sugar, and while they still taste great, they don't have the pretty sparkly appearance.  And we all know that's the most important part!

  • 1 large granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
  • 1 lb fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups sugar, divided; plus more for coating
  • 2 tsp pectin
  • 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
Line an 8x8 inch baking dish with 2 pieces of parchment paper, leaving overhangs on all sides.

Puree the apples, cranberries, 1 1/2 cups sugar, and 1 cup of water in a blender until very smooth.  Pour it into a large heavy pot.  Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture is thick and bubbly.

Combine the pectin and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a small bowl.  Slowly whisk it into the cranberry mixture, then reduce heat to medium-low.  Continue to cook, stirring often, until the thermometer registers 200 degrees F, 8 to 15 minutes.  

Remove from heat and whisk in the lemon juice.  Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.  Cool at room temperature until it's firm and set, about 4 hours.

Just before serving, mold the jelly onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares.  Gently toss jellies in a bowl of sugar to coat, and serve immediately.