Lemony Chicken Risotto with Peas.

A couple years ago, our friend Richard gave us a challenge: to only make meals using ingredients you already have. Use up everything in your cabinet, fridge, or freezer before buying new food. I kind of scoffed at the idea at the time, "oh that's ridiculous, what about fresh fruits and vegetables?" "What if I'm only left with a bag of dried pinto beans, Nutella, and some cream of mushroom soup?" (That's impossible, Nutella's always the first to go). After a while, I sort of forgot about the whole notion until recently. I still think I would have a really hard time going through all of my ingredients before picking something up at the grocery store (I would come up with some delicious interesting recipes, though...right?), however it has made me think a little more about what I buy, vs what we have.
I don't know if anyone else has this problem, but with the bombardment of blogs and recipes on the internet--don't even get me started on my Pinterest addiction, I have gotten into the habit of meal planning based on what looks good, buying all sorts of new and wonderful ingredients, without even checking to see what I already have. I used to be great at trying to come up with meals based on what we had in stock, but I've let that slip. As I'm now into my last week of work, about to take on the challenge of being a full-time mom, I've realized that we need to be smarter with our money--starting in the kitchen.
I had all the things!
I've had this box of risotto since...uh...pre-Sam? I usually buy Arborio rice in bulk, but I think when we last ran out, the grocery store only had this box. So, I finally decided to make it. I love risotto, and I used to make it all the time. But post baby, I've basically ignored any recipe that requires stirring...or heck attention for more than 15 minutes. Even though Tom has been a huge help in the kitchen (I mean, he does all the dishes--cleans up my messes! It's the best!) I've still relied on easy, quick recipes. The best thing about risotto is that it's very (deceptively) easy, it just requires that attention that I didn't want to give, until now.
In sticking with my, lets-see-what-we-have challenge, I had all of the ingredients on hand. The Meyer lemon has been sitting in my fruit bowl for about two weeks now, chicken that needed to be eaten, frozen spring peas, I used up one of my three (yes, three!) open bottles of white wine in the fridge, I used one of my two onions, and I almost always have a block of Parmesan. I had chicken stock on hand (1.5 cartons!) which is unusual because I tend to buy that specifically for recipes. I was pretty proud of myself for throwing this together, and it was pretty tasty, with ingredients we already had.
I've made so many risotto recipes that I kind of winged it, but it's loosely based on this recipe from theKitchn.
The risotto was even better the next day, after we let it sit for a while, and of course, we topped it with Sriracha.
It's not the most beautiful picture, but it was delicious!
Lemony Chicken Risotto with Peas
loosly adapted from Nealey Dozier at theKitchn
makes about 8 servings

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1large yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb of boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, diced 
16 oz Arborio rice (box equaled about 2 1/4 cups)

Zest from one lemon--about 1 tsp
1 cup dry white wine

Juice from one lemon 
5 cups chicken stock

10oz  fresh or frozen green peas
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving 

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, heat the chicken stock on low, so that it's barely simmering. 

Meanwhile, heat the butter and olive oil on medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed skillet. Add the onions to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Once the onions are translucent and you can smell the garlic, add the diced chicken. Cook the chicken until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.  

Add the rice and the lemon zest. Stir to combine, letting the rice soak up any butter in the pan. After about a minute add in the wine (and have a glass too, while you're at it). Stir, making sure to scrape up any browned-bits on the bottom of the pan. Continue stirring until all the wine has been absorbed by the rice. Then, a half a cup at a time, add the warm chicken stock. Making sure that the rice absorbed all the liquid before adding more. After adding about 4 cups of stock, add the peas and lemon juice and stir. Continue adding stock until it has all been absorbed, and rice is al dente. Add the Parmesan, salt and pepper. Stir to combine.


Resurrection Fern

That is undoubtedly one of my favorite plants here in the deep south. Beautiful, lush, green , epiphytic ferns, thriving on live oak branches after a rainstorm. Then, after weeks of hot sun, and dry weather, it appears brown, wilted, dead, never to return. All it needed was one more rainstorm, and it's back, and just as beautiful as it was before.

Ok, maybe I went a little far with analogy, but after two(...cough...almost three) years of blog-coma, I will be back, and better than ever.

More recipes.
More humid stories.
Even kid stuff too.

Now, I just need y'all to be my rainstorm (ha! I'm so cheesy) and help bring me back to life.


Oh what a year it's been (and a pumpkin bread pudding).

Tom sent me flowers at work!
On Sunday, Tom and I celebrated our 1-year wedding anniversary. And, I have to say, this has been the most hectic year yet. Which is why I am also here, begging your forgiveness for my 9-month hiatus. A lot has happened since my last post--which I'll explain in brief . 
After we sobered up from the Mardi Gras festivities, Tom and I decided to set some roots down in Mobile for at least a few more years--we bought a house. We decided to stay in in the Oakleigh neighborhood, where we were renting. It's a historic neighborhood, less than a mile from downtown and completely charming.  Full of live oaks and historic homes--we had to stay. We moved in on May 1st and ever since we've been painting, planting, updating, refinishing, and cleaning. Lots of cleaning. I'll post before and after photos in an upcoming post. But, here's a glimpse at what our house looked like when we moved in: 
We've made some epic changes, stay tuned.
During the downright hellish process of buying a house (apparently they don't just hand them out like they used to), my mother's health was in a serious decline. I flew up to visit her in the hospital in April, and I wish I had known that would be the last time I would see her. On the fourth of July, she passed away. I won't burden you with too much emotion, (because quite frankly I don't believe a blog is the appropriate forum for personal issues) but needless to say, I haven't felt like posting in the past few months. However, thanks to the support and encouragement ("are you ever going to post on your blog again"!?!?) from my husband and friends, I decided to rejoin the online community. And, what better way to return than with a super-indulgent bread pudding? 
I used a combination of two different recipes, one from Deb at Smitten Kitchen and another one I found on Epicurious. I started by cutting up a baguette on Saturday and leaving it out overnight. The bread was perfectly stale the next day. 
Rum and Bourbon? Yes please.
I followed Smitten Kitchen's lazy method by melting the butter in the oven while mixing the above cast of characters. I also decided to add some golden raisins and pecans to the dish--for texture--and I love pecans. 
I primarily followed the recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but I added the caramel sauce from the Epicurious recipe. I think it really set it over the top. And, what anniversary brunch is complete with out a  mimosa or two? Tom cooked some bacon as I was finishing the sauce and we sat down to one of the best brunches we've ever made...if I do say so myself. 
More Prosecco, please. 
Pumpkin Bread pudding: adapted from Smitten Kitchen
1 cup whole milk + 1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons bourbon

1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped pecans
5 cups cubed (1-inch) day-old baguette or crusty bread
1 stick unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

While preheating oven to 350° melt butter in the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Once it is melted (watch it, it will burn quickly), take it out of the oven and toss bread cubes with butter, coating thoroughly. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the remaining ingredients (except raisins and pecans) and pour over bread cubes. Add raisins and pecans and stir to make sure all the pieces are evenly coated. Bake until Custard is set, 25 to 30 minutes. 
While the bread is in the oven, make the following caramel sauce. You won't regret it. 

Caramel Sauce: nabbed from Epicurious
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dark rum

Heat the butter and the brown sugar in a heavy bottomed pot until the butter is melted. Add the cream and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved.Stir in rum. Keep warm and serve over bread pudding. Or, better yet, just eat it by the spoonful.


'Tis the most wonderful time of the year.

It's finally the beginning of festival season here on the Gulf Coast. Once Christmas and New Years were over, I immediately switched to Mardi Gras mode. Mardi Gras (which originated in Mobile in 1703) starts at the official end of the Christmas season (Epiphany, or the twelfth night) and continues to Fat Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday. Since Easter falls in April this year, 2011 has the longest Carnival season since 1943, spanning a total of 61 days. Which means, we have a lot of celebrating to do.
King Cake in its full, tacky glory
I decided to kick off Mardi Gras season this year by attempting to make my first King Cake.  A King Cake is essentially a braided cinnamon bread topped with icing and sprinkles in the colors of Mardi Gras. Often the cake has a cream cheese or praline filling, but I decided to stick with the original for my first attempt. A small trinket, usually a plastic baby, is baked inside the cake and rumor has it, the one who finds the baby is to be treated like a king for a day and then he/she buys the cake next season. Of course, Tom found the baby. 
I had been searching for a recipe to make my own for a while, but I never really decided on one, until Tom and I went to New Orleans this past weekend. On Sunday, we did a bit of shopping in the French Quarter and we stopped in Beckham's Bookstore where I came across my new favorite book: The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine by Chef John D. Folse. This is an incredible book which includes hundreds of recipes, detailed history, and amazing photography (have I sold you yet?). It's a large, heavy book, but if you're interested in Cajun or Creole cooking, I definitely recommend it.  I flipped through to the desserts and I found the recipe for the King Cake and I had to try it. I followed the recipe as is, and it turned out very well, it was delicious. There are a few changes I would make the next time: less icing, less almond oil, smaller cake. The recipe follows below. 


Blackberry Farm

Tom and I were talking about winning a mega lottery the other day, you know the type where you can't even comprehend the amount of money involved? We asked each other what we'd do with it, how much we'd give to family, etc and we both seemed relatively reserved with how we would spend it. I hadn't really given it serious thought before, but over the past couple of days I thought about what I would REALLY want to do and how I'd really want to live my life (if money weren't an issue). I always came back to Blackberry Farm.
I found out about this place while I was in graduate school in Knoxville, though I've never actually been. It's located in Walland, TN where I spent a large portion of my time sampling streams for sediment and e.coli and teaching elementary students about Africa. And, although I didn't realize it at the time, I was only minutes away from one of the most luxurious places in the country (and I'm not talking about Gatlinburg).
The reason I love this place is not just because it's 4,200 acres of pure Appalachian splendor, but because they do everything that I want to do; they are totally connected to the land.
The whole concept of "farm-to-table" is right there, in your face, everyday. In their gourmet restaurant, they serve their own vegetables and herbs, and fruit from their orchard. They also raise sheep and pigs for meat and cheese. They've even expanded into selling the cheeses, smoked meats, and preserved fruit. I think my obsession culminated with the recent publication of their cookbook: Blackberry Farm Cookbook: Four Seasons of Great Food and the Good Life.  
What would you do if you won the lottery?

Update: Blackberry farm also has Truffles. Not just at the restaurant, on the grounds too. Could this place be any more perfect??   via: Garden and Gun Magazine


The Smoker

Every year for Christmas Tom and I give each other small gifts, usually just stocking stuffers, books, etc (except this year Tom got me this granite mortar & pestle. Swoon. Made the best guacamole ever)
We also chip in and do one big gift. Last year we finally joined the 21st century by switching to a flat screen T.V. (granted, that was made easier by upgrading the free T.V. I won at the company Christmas party). This year we decided to finally get something we've been drooling over for a while: a smoker (Tom longer than I have because he's actually used one before, and I hadn't given much thought to smoked meat until I moved to the south). Smokers come in several shapes and sizes (and everyone who owns a smoker has a reason why their style or their sauce is the best). They can be found on trailers, in back yards, at tailgates etc, and just about all of them are modified to a specific cooking style. They go way beyond your standard grill. The main types of smokers that I've seen are, the bullet style (Webber Smokey Mountain or Big Green Egg), the barrel style, and then the custom, homemade smokers (for the ultra-BBQ master).
Bullet Style
 Barrel smoker with offset firebox

This is just to give you an idea of the custom smokers
BBQ is a religion down here.

We ended up going with a barrel smoker, one that looks very similar to the center picture. Tom took care of setting it up and seasoning it (I'm not sure what goes into that, but I think it involves fire and magic). We tired it out for the first time this weekend on a pork shoulder and we were VERY impressed. We still need to tweak timing and temperature but I think we might have a new weekend pastime. BBQ anyone?

Keeping the meat moist with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and apple cider
Speaking of BBQ, we were able to nail down a pretty awesome sauce for the pulled pork. We loved it, it's tangy, sweet, and a bit spicy, so good you can eat it by the spoonful (but don't let anyone see you). We had a bit of leftover Maker's Mark from our holiday party and I think that really set it over the top. I used a combination of a recipe from All Recipes and one from Epicurious and my own spices (specifically cayenne). The result: Bliss. Here's the recipe

Maker's Mark BBQ Sauce
1/2 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup Maker's Mark
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup backstrap molasses
2 or 3 dashes of cayenne
1/3 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, or to taste 

In a large heavy pot over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic, and whiskey. Simmer for 10 minutes (the smell is POTENT but just go with it), or until onion is translucent. Mix in the ground black pepper, salt, ketchup, tomato paste, vinegar, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, molasses, cayenne, and hot pepper sauce. 
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Run sauce through a strainer.


Christmas time.

He's got the spirit, do you?
I still don't believe that Christmas is only two days away. I'm usually on top of everything (gifts, cards, food) by mid-December. This isn't because I'm a planner (I'm famous for my procrastination), it's because I love all things Christmas. The music, the clothing, the decorations, and the overall spirit of giving (all while trying to avoid the mall...crazies). If you're looking for last minute gifts (especially if you're on the cheap, like us, "it's a Tiny Tim Christmas!"), and you're not interested in fighting for that last snuggie for two. I have a couple of suggestions that I tried to pass as gifts (warning, when I told a co-worker of said gifts, her response was "how cheap of you!" proceed with caution).
Fact: No one wants this.
Chocolate & Peppermint Bark Cookies adapted from Cookin' canuck who adapted it from Bon Appetit magizine

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 finely chopped peppermint candy canes (about 3 ounces)
2 oz. high-quality white chocolate

3 candy canes = about 1/2 cup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with parchment, letting it hang over the sides of the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt and set aside. In the bowl of a mixer, beat butter until creamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Continue to beat until the mixture is light and creamy, about 3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla extract and egg yolk. Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually beat in the flour mixture, until just combined. Do not overmix.

Scatter the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan and gently press it, with slightly moistened fingers (this is important, dough sticks to dry hands), to form a flat layer. Prick all over with a fork.

Bake the cookie layer until golden brown and slightly puffed, and edges are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan, 25-30 minutes. Place on a cookie rack and immediately sprinkle chopped bittersweet or semisweet (or a combination of the two) over the cookie layer. Let the chocolate sit for about 3 minutes. Using an offset spatula (I don't have one of these, I found that the back of a large spoon works quite well), spread the chocolate into an even layer over the surface of the cookies. Immediately sprinkle crushed candy canes, over the chocolate layer.

Place chopped white chocolate in a medium metal bowl (I used a glass bowl, worked just as well) set over a simmering pot of water. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Using a fork, drizzle the white chocolate over the peppermint candies. Chill for approximately 30 minutes.

Gripping the overhanging parchment paper, lift the cookies out of the pan and place on a work surface. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the cookies into irregular pieces. This can be stored in an airtight container in a refrigerator for one week.
Highly addictive, don't say I didn't warn you.
Italian-Herb Party Mix
Adapted from Noble Pig, who adapted from Cuisine at Home

For the party mix-
2 cups each: Chex Corn, Chex Rice and Chex Wheat cereal squares
2 cups mini pretzels*
1 cup peanuts

For the Butter-Spice Mixture-
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme, parsley
1/2 teaspoon each: red pepper flakes, salt, garlic powder and onion powder

For the Cheese-Herb Mixture-
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 250o F.  Mix cereal, pretzels and nuts for the party mix in a large bowl; set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat.  Add oil, vinegar, Worcestershire, Italian seasoning, pepper flakes, garlic salt, garlic powder and onion powder; stir to combine.

Off heat pour butter-spice mixture over party mix and keep tossing until it is fully coated.

Transfer party mix to a baking sheet.  Bake mix 1-1-1/4 hours (I did mine for 1 hour only), stirring every 15 minutes.

Combine Parmesan, basil and rosemary in a bowl, sprinkle over party mix and toss together while mix is still warm.  Cool mix on a baking sheet and store in an airtight container up to 1 week.

*For the pretzels you can use any shape, just make sure they are small, I went with the sticks.
**The recipe suggested using slivered almonds, I used peanuts because I love peanuts in party mixes, but any nuts will do.

Tie a little bow around this, and you have yourself a nice (albeit cheap) gift that everyone will enjoy. 

Happy holidays everyone!