Sunday, June 29, 2014

Fresh Cherry Margaritas

Fresh Cherry Margaritas 

Can Margarita Mondays be a thing?  Is there a petition somewhere I can sign?

I have a doozy for you today.  Aside from peaches, cherries are the fruit that I await most eagerly throughout the cold and miserable winter months.  There's a magical few weeks around this time where they are cheaper than grapes!  And we go through them faster than you can say "George Washington."

Fresh Cherry Margaritas

So naturally, turning those pretty red jewels into a margarita was the next step in my cherry obsession.  Pretty much every margarita I make is deemed "my new favorite," and the cherry version is no exception.  It's the perfect balance of sweet and tart, and you can't beat that gorgeous red color.

When you cook with cherries, you definitely have to work for them - pitting, stemming, chopping, etc.  So reward yourself for all your hard work with tequila!

Fresh Cherry Margaritas

Fresh Cherry Margaritas
adapted from Fine Cooking, via Annie's Eats
serves 4

  • 14 oz stemmed and pitted fresh cherries (about 2 1/4 cups, or about 50 cherries)
  • 2/3 cup tequila
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur
  • 1/4 cup simple syrup*, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher.  Taste and add more simple syrup if it's still too tart, adding 1 tablespoon at a time.  

Serve over ice.

*To make simple syrup, heat 1 cup sugar with 1 cup of water over medium heat, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before using.

Friday, June 27, 2014

BLT Pizza

BLT Pizza


On Monday, I wrote an ode to baked brie, and today I'm here with an ode to the BLT.  Is there a summer meal more perfect than a BLT?  A juicy homegrown tomato, perfectly crispy and salty bacon and fresh crisp lettuce.  I think I may need a moment.  I have been pretty vocal about my distaste for mayonnaise, but this is one capacity in which I think it is crucial.  I typically like to mix it with some fresh herbs and/or garlic before spreading it on the bread for my BLT, which not only adds another layer of flavor to your sandwich, but it helps mask the "mayo" taste. ;)  I could eat a BLT for lunch and dinner every day in the summer and never get tired of it.

But this isn't about a sandwich, this is about a pizza.  And this pizza is definitely worth writing about.  I've been wanting to make a BLT pizza for years now, but could never quite conceptualize it.  Leave it to Cooking Light to not only make a really freaking delicious pizza, but one that's actually relatively healthy and light.  Imagine that!

So remember how I said I hate mayo, but I use it on my BLT's mixed with herbs and garlic?  Well that's exactly what you'll use as the sauce here.  I know it sounds kind of icky to use mayo on a pizza, but it's just a small amount, and it almost "melts" into the dough, and it gives the pizza a rich and creamy taste.  I also added my beloved roasted tomatoes to the pizza, sprinkled some bacon over those, and then topped it with a modest amount of cheese.  After it bakes, comes the "L."  Simply scatter some fresh leaves of your choice over the pizza before serving.  The original recipe called for arugula, but it's not my favorite green, so I used mache instead.

I've yet to even have my first BLT sandwich of the summer, but I'm pretty sure that the BLT pizza is going to become a regular occurrence around here as well.  BLT sandwich for lunch, BLT pizza for dinner?  Overkill?

BLT Pizza

BLT Pizza with White Sauce
adapted from Cooking Light, July 2014
serves 4

  • 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup canola or reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing the dough
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh scallions
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1 lb fresh pizza dough
  • 1 Tbs cornmeal
  • 2 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup greens of your choice (recommend mache, spinach, or arugula)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with the oregano and pepper.  Scoot the tomatoes towards the center of the baking sheet and fit the bacon around the edges.  Bake for 20 minutes, stirring the tomatoes halfway through.  Drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate then break into bite-sized pieces.

Place a pizza stone in the oven and increase the temperature to 500 degrees.

Meanwhile, whisk together the mayonnaise, oil, scallions, parsley, and garlic in a small bowl.  

Sprinkle the cornmeal over a large square of parchment paper, then roll and stretch the pizza dough into a 12-inch circle.  Spread the mayo mixture over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border, then brush the border lightly with olive oil.

Scatter the tomatoes and bacon over the sauce, then sprinkle with the cheese.  Transfer to the pizza stone in the oven, and bake 10 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Allow to cool 10 minutes.  Top with greens, cut into 8 slices, and serve.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mocha-Fudge Ice Cream Pie (Mississippi Mud Pie)

Mocha-Fudge Ice Cream Pie

As I go through life, certain holidays and situations become bittersweet for me for various reasons.  This year, it was Father's Day.  I feel so lucky to have a good relationship with my father, but not everyone has that.  Some have lost their father.  Or their grandfather.  Or their husband.  And that hit me hard this year.  A friend of mine lost her husband in a boating accident earlier this summer, and I can't even imagine the pain she and her three sweet kids are going through right now.  It's just inexplicable, and my heart aches for her.  I long for the innocence of a child, and then I mourn for the innocence that her young children have lost.  It's a fickle thing, life.

It sounds so trite and empty to say "Live life to the fullest."  Or "Embrace it all while you can."  But I guess it's true.  You aren't guaranteed anything, and that became abundantly apparent to me this year.  I won't be spouting off any of these axioms in my daily life, I do try and remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.

Mocha-Fudge Ice Cream Pie 

So while we definitely celebrated Joey on Father's Day this year, my heart felt heavy all day as I thought about my friend.  I made this pie for Joey per his request, and I thought about what she wouldn't give to be able to make her husband a dessert.  Or to give him one last hug and kiss.  Or just to see him or hear his voice one more time.

Guys, "they" are right.  Life is short, and it can be cruel.  Embrace it.  Live it.  Eat the pie.

Mocha-Fudge Ice Cream Pie 

Mocha-Fudge Ice Cream Pie (Mississippi Mud Pie)
adapted from Baked Explorations

This pie starts with an Oreo crust, then comes a layer of bourbon-spiked filling.  Next is a layer of coffee ice cream (the best ice cream flavor ever).  And when you're ready to serve it, you drizzle it with bourbon-hot fudge sauce.  I'd say this is pretty fantastic.

For the Chocolate Cookie Crust:

  • 15 chocolate sandwich cookies (Oreos)
  • 1 Tbs granulated sugar
  • 4 Tb unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
  • 4 oz (60 to 72%) dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbs heavy cream
  • 3 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbs light corn syrup
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
  • 1 Tbs bourbon 
  • 1 pint (2 cups) good quality coffee ice cream
For the Bourbon-Hot Fudge Sauce:
  • 2 Tbs heavy cream
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 Tbs light corn syrup
  • 3 oz (60 to 72%) dark chocolate
  • 1 Tbs bourbon
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the cookie crust, pulverize the cookies in a food processor until they are finely ground.  Transfer the crumbs to a medium bowl and stir in the sugar and butter.  Pour the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate, and firmly press them into the bottom and sides.  Bake 7 to 10 minutes, then cool on a wire rack as you prepare the filling.

To  make the filling, chop the chocolate into coarse pieces, and place in a medium heat-proof bowl.  In a small saucepan, bring the cream, butter, and corn syrup to a simmer.  Remove from heat, pour the mixture over the chocolate, and let sit for 1 minute.  Whisk until it is completely smooth, then stir in the confectioner's sugar and bourbon.  Pour the fudge into the prepare pie plate, spread it evenly over the bottom, and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or freeze for 30 minutes to set.

Soften the ice cream to the consistency of soft serve, either by leaving it on the counter for a few minutes, or microwaving for 10 seconds.  Pour it into a large bowl and use a rubber spatula to beat it until it is smooth and malleable.  Spread the ice cream over the fudge layer, then freeze the pie for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the ice cream is firm.

When ready to serve, prepare the bourbon-hot fudge topping.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the cream, butter, and corn syrup to a simmer.  Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate, whisking until smooth.  Stir in the bourbon.

To serve, use a warm sharp knife to cut the pie into slices, then drizzle each slice with the fudge sauce.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sweet & Spicy Peach-Baked Brie


Oh baked brie, how I love you so.  Is there any other appetizer out there that is guaranteed to disappear at a party?  Anytime I serve it, it really is gone.  Someone (ahem, not naming names) will even stand over the plate and scrape up every last bit of cheese.  We wouldn't want to waste imported cheese, now would we?

My typical preparation of baked brie is a wheel of brie, raspberry preserves, and then I wrap it up in puff pastry.  This particular version is a new twist, and one that I will definitely be making again and again!

Peaches are by far my favorite summer fruit, so to combine them with melty, gooey, deliciously creamy brie was a match made in heaven.  Especially since the said peaches are tossed with some spicy red pepper jelly and a bit of Dijon mustard.  The heat from the jelly and mustard is tamed a bit by the sweet peaches, and then the creamy brie ties them both together.  A huge bonus is that this comes together in just minutes, is super easy, and I guarantee that it will be a crowd pleaser.

As if you needed another reason to love peaches.  Or brie.  Or summer.

Sweet & Spicy Peach-Baked Brie
adapted from Southern Living, June 2014

  • 1 Tbs pepper jelly
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large peach, peeled, pitted, and diced
  • 1 Brie round (about 13 oz), packed in a wooden box
  • crackers or baguette slices, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  

Stir together the jelly, mustard, pepper flakes, kosher salt, and black pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Unwrap the brie; use a vegetable peeler to scrape off the rind from the top of the wheel.  Use a spoon to scoop out 1/2 inch of brie from the center.  Eat what you scooped out ;).

Place the box on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 10 minutes.  Spoon the peach mixture over the top, mounding it slightly.  Bake another 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the peaches are heated through.

Carefully transfer the brie + the box to a serving platter.  Serve immediately with crackers or bread.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Low Country Grill

Part of what I love the most about this fine country of ours are all the different regional cuisines and specialties.  I'm sure you're all familiar with seafood boils in the summer, but depending on where you live, it may be called something else, and the seafood will definitely vary.  Here in the coastal south, we call it a "low country boil."  Louisiana and Texas have crawfish boils.  The northeast does clambakes.  And some just call it a shrimp boil.

So everyone does it differently, but here's the way I like it.  Shrimp (only gulf shrimp will do), potatoes, corn, and spicy sausage.  Lots of old bay seasoning.  Butter.  And from the grill.  Low country boil purists will definitely call blasphemy on this, but in my opinion, serving this grilled blows the boil right out of the water (pun intended).  Oftentimes the boil can be bland, and the timing can be tricky as well. Sometimes the potatoes are undercooked.  Sometimes the shrimp is overcooked and rubbery.  But when you make it on the grill, you have total control over each component.

I've been making this for a few years now, and it's my favorite summer dinner.  We make this every year at the beach for our group of 20+, when we're entertaining at our house, when we want a fun weekend dinner… it's just a great summer meal.  I like to prep everything ahead of time, then just throw it on the grill when we're ready to eat.  As it all grills, I brush it with Old Bay butter, then toss it all with more of that delicious compound butter once it comes off the grill.  Dump it on a pile of newspaper, and dig in caveman-style.  The kids think it's hilarious to eat dinner without plates.

The side dishes for this are non-negotiable:  cheddar-garlic biscuits and fresh watermelon.  And cold beer for the adults, of course.

This is the ultimate summer meal, and one that I look forward to every year.  Grill your low-country boil.  You won't be sorry.

Low Country Grill
inspired by Everyday Food, June 2011
serves 4 to 6, and can easily be scaled up or down

  • 1 lb red new potatoes, halved or quartered, depending on size
  • 4 ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 1 lb smoked sausage or Andouille sausage
  • 1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • canola oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbs Old Bay seasoning
  • 1 tsp hot sauce (or more, if you prefer more spice)
  • 1 tsp honey
  • lemon wedges, for serving
  • hot sauce, for serving
Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

Add the potatoes to a medium saucepan, cover with water, and season with a big pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork, 8 to 12 minutes.  Drain and rinse, then when cool enough to handle, thread onto skewers.

Thread the shrimp onto skewers.  

Brush everything with canola oil, and season lightly with salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, combine the butter, old bay, hot sauce, honey, and a pinch of salt.

Place everything on the grill, then cook 8 to 12 minutes, turning every few minutes and brushing with the butter.  The shrimp will take the least amount of time - cook them just until they are pink and opaque, 8 minutes at the very most, but likely closer to 5 to 6 minutes, depending on how tightly they are threaded onto the skewers and how big they are.  Reserve the remaining butter.

Remove from heat and cut each ear of corn into thirds.  Slice the sausage into bite-sized pieces.  Combine the sausage, corn, potatoes, and shrimp in a large bowl and toss with the remaining butter.  

To serve, dump everything onto a platter or newspaper.  Dig in.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Grilled Summer Vegetable Chopped Salad


Alternately titled, "My Summer Obsession."  Or "Grilled Romaine Salad with Chicken, Zucchini, Corn, and Feta, with a Spicy Lemon-Garlic Dressing."  Do you see why I went with "Grilled Summer Veggie Chopped Salad?"

But no matter what you call it, this salad IS my summer obsession, and with the veggies coming into their primes, I see no signs of that slowing down any time soon.  My nutrition and diet as of late haven't exactly been ideal, and this salad has been a great way to kind of "reset."  It's healthy and light, but it's really filling and really delicious, so I don't feel deprived or bitter about giving up french fries.  And isn't there something so great about chopped salads?  I don't know what it is, but I just love them.

A few weeks ago, my sweet friend Courtney and her sweet family stopped by our house on their way through Atlanta.  We of course wanted to cook together, and the original version of this salad was on the menu.  A seemingly simple grilled salad of corn, zucchini, and feta, this salad ended up being my favorite dish of the night.  We all raved over it, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

The following week, I was craving it again, but this time I bulked it up with the addition of grilled chicken and grilled romaine.  And then the next week, I made it again.  You can see where this is going.

If you've never had grilled romaine,  I know it sounds kind of weird, but just trust me.  Grilling the romaine hearts gives them a great char and a little smoky flavor, but since they're only on the grill for a few minutes, they don't get gross and mushy.  Like I said, you have to just trust me on this that grilled romaine is amazing.

This is an easy dinner, one that only dirties a few dishes, it's healthy, and it celebrates the produce of the season.  Will you pretty please make this for dinner tonight?

Grilled Summer Vegetable Chopped Salad
inspired by Cook's Country, June/July 2014
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for dressing
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • zest of half a lemon
  • 2 ears corn, husk and silks removed
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick planks
  • 2 heads of romaine hearts, halved lengthwise
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 2 Tbs chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 2 oz)
Prepare the grill to cook at medium-high heat.  Allow to preheat at least 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the oil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, lemon zest, and red pepper flakes.

Brush the zucchini, corn, and romaine with oil, then pour about 1 tablespoon of the oil mixture over the chicken breasts,  Brush them with the oil then discard the brush (In other words, don't dip it back into the mixture, because it will contaminate the oil since the chicken is raw!).  Reserve the remaining oil mixture to use for the dressing.

Clean the cooking grate, then place the chicken, zucchini, romaine, and corn on the grill.  This may need to be done in batches, depending on the size of your grill.  But definitely start with the chicken since it takes the longest to cook.  

For the chicken, grill it about 7 minutes per side, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  Remove from heat and cover with foil.

For the corn, grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes, until the kernels are lightly charred all over, about 10 minutes total.

For the zucchini, grill it until it is well-browned and tender (but not mushy), about 4 to 5 minutes per side.

For the romaine, grill it 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until it is very lightly charred.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing.  Add enough oil to the remaining oil-garlic-pepper mixture to reach a volume of 1/4 cup, then whisk in the lemon juice.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.

Once everything is off the grill, begin building the salad.  Chop the romaine hearts into bite-sized pieces and add them to a large bowl.  Cut the kernels off the corn and add them to the romaine.  Cut the zucchini crosswise into 1/2 inch-thick slices, and add those as well.  Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.  Crumble the feta into the bowl, and top with the chopped basil.  Drizzle the dressing over the top, then toss well to combine.  

Divide among plates, then lightly sprinkle each serving with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Serve.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Watermelon Margaritas

In an effort to drink margaritas made from every fruit on the planet (and some vegetables…), today I bring you the watermelon margarita.  Guys, this margarita is like drinking a watermelon jolly rancher.  Only better.  Because it's real watermelon, not "watermelon flavor."  And there's salt.  And there's tequila.  When does tequila NOT make it better?

Admittedly, I was a little apprehensive about this drink because sometimes drinks and food made with watermelon can be… well.. watery.  But not these.  The watermelon flavor is intensified by the lime and simple syrup, and you end up with a perfectly sweet margarita.

These margaritas have quickly become a new summer favorite.  I've made them once a week for the past three weeks, and I'm already counting the days until Friday, when I can enjoy them once again.

Oh who cares, why wait for Friday?  Let's celebrate Monday!  Watermelon margaritas for everyone!

Watermelon Margaritas
adapted from Martha Stewart, via Tide and Thyme

Use the ripest, most flavorful watermelon you can find.  Bland, watery watermelons have no place here!

  • 1/3 cup simple syrup*
  • 12 oz fresh watermelon cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice, spent lime halves reserved
  • 2/3 cup silver tequila
  • 1/4 cup triple sec
  • ice
  • salt, for the rims

In a blender, combine the simple syrup, watermelon, lime juice, tequila, and triple sec.

Puree until smooth, then pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a pitcher or large jar.

Use a spent lime half to wet the rim of your glass, dip it into salt, then fill it with ice.  Pour the margarita over the top, and serve.

*To make simple syrup, combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 cup of water in a small saucepan set over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved,  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature before using. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator, and use it to sweeten cocktails, coffee, tea, etc!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Skillet Asparagus Salad with Goat Cheese and Citrus

I know that a lot of people think salad is boring and ho-hum.  But if a salad is good, then it's hard to beat.  This salad?  It's GOOD.

To be honest, when I first ran across the recipe, it didn't jump out at me.  I have asparagus and goat cheese in salad quite often, so it was nothing new there.  But when I saw that it was created by one of my favorite Atlanta chefs, and that it used a cool technique to coax more flavor out of the citrus, I was intrigued.

Lemon and Orange rinds are microwaved in a cup of water, then drained and added to the dressing.  Doing this tames the bitterness of the rind, while also leaving you with a bright yet still mellow flavor.  The little bits of orange rind was one of my favorite parts of the salad.

The salad is finished off with goat cheese, toasted pecans, and a wine-spiked citrus dressing.  And since you just opened a bottle of white for the dressing, you might as well have a glass with dinner, am I right?

I know the ingredient list is long, and there are a lot of directions, but this is really quick and easy. Less than 30 minutes, even.  And I'd venture to guess that you already have most of these ingredients on hand.

I kept it really light when we had this, simply serving it with some fresh bread.  Asparagus season is fast and fleeting, so make this special salad before it's too late!

Skillet Asparagus Salad with Goat Cheese
barely adapted from Cooking Light, May 2014
serves 4

  • 6 tsp olive oil, divided
  •  freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 lbs asparagus, woody ends snapped off (about 30 spears)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp julienne-cut orange rind*
  • 1 tsp julienne-cut lemon rind*
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 Tbs dry white wine
  • 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 4 cups mixed baby salad greens
  • 2 oz goat cheese, crumbled (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 Tbs chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1 Tbs fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tbs fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tbs fresh mint leaves, chopped
Combine 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, 1/4 tsp of pepper, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl with the asparagus.  Toss to coat.  Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, and add about one-third of the asparagus.  Cook until lightly charred and crisp-tender, about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from the pan and set aside, then repeat with the remaining asparagus.

Place 1 cup of water in a glass liquid measuring cup.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until the water is just beginning to boil.  Add the orange rinds, and let stand for 20 seconds.  Drain the water and reserve the rind.  Repeat with the lemon rind, and set aside.

Combine the orange juice, rind, and sugar in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture has reduced to about 3 tablespoons (this will take about 5 minutes).  

Meanwhile, in a small bowl or jar, combine the wine, lemon juice, mustard, 1/8 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and the lemon rind.  Slowly whisk in 5 teaspoons of the oil, then stir in the orange juice mixture.

Toss the salad greens with all but 4 tablespoons of the dressing, then divide among plates.  Top the greens with the asparagus, crumbled goat cheese, and pecans.  Sprinkle the fresh herbs over the top, then season with a pinch of salt and pepper.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the remaining dressing over each salad, and serve.

*To julienne the citrus rind, I used a vegetable peeler to peel off a strip of zest + rind.  Then I simply sliced it into thin strips.