Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

When it comes to Mac and Cheese, it seems there are two different camps: saucy and baked. I come from a long line of baked mac and cheese fans. It's the way my grandmother made it. As far as I'm concerned, as long as there are noodles and cheese, it can't be bad. I've never met a mac and cheese that I didn't love. Can I get an amen? 

If you've been around Fork Heart Kentucky for any amount of time, you can see that my gom-gom's recipes are quite important to me.  Go ahead and add this one to the list. She was a pretty special woman and people rave about this particular dish.  You don't have to tell anyone in my family whose recipe this is when they see it in the buffet line--everyone already knows. 

I've said it before and I'll say it many, many more times, but I love how food brings out memories or can strike up a conversation. A week or so ago I was "watching" Astronaut Wives Club with Cara (I saw 'watching' because she lives in Florida) and one of the wives was making a salad with gelatin and mayonnaise.  I'm pretty sure Cara was grossed out because she said "jello and mayo"? That immediately brought back a memory of eating lime jello with Gom-gom at Biancke's back home in Cynthiana. It is such a vivid scene. She would sit there, drinking her decaf with her sweater draped around her shoulders. Man, I miss those days.  And yes, she would spread mayo on her jello salad and it was delicious. I prefer it with lime over the other flavors. Hey! Don't knock it till you try it! 

This Baked Macaroni and Cheese is not controversial, unlike the jello.  This is something we can all agree on (I hope). Cheese, noodles, eggs, milk. Can it get any easier than that? You want more good news? You can make it in advance and bake when you're ready to eat! I just keep making this day better for you, don't I?  

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked according to package directions
7 eggs
3 cups milk
1 (16 ounce) block sharp cheddar, sliced
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Cook noodles according to package directions, making sure to salt the water. 

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and milk. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. 

When noodles are cooked and drained, add half of them to a 9x13 baking dish. Top with half of the sliced cheese. Cover with remaining noodles and again with the remaining cheese. Pour the egg and milk mixture evenly over the noodles. 

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the egg mixture has set. 

You can make this the night before and bake it an hour before serving. 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Egg Kisses

We're looking forward to Independance Day around here with these Egg Kisses filled with fresh fruit. Strawberries and blueberries turn this elegant but easy dessert into the perfect red, white and blue! They also bring back childhood memories for me as mom regularly whipped these babies up.  I absolutely love how food can evoke so many memories and great ones at that!  Who has bad memories surrounding food?  I certainly don't. 

I know what you're thinking right now.  You're saying to yourself that these look really difficult to make.  Fortunately that is not the case.  With a stand or hand mixer, these egg kisses can be whipped up in about 20 minutes.  When using a stand mixer you can actually leave it and come back to check on it every few minutes.  I threw in a load of laundry and washed some dishes.  I'm a multi-tasker. The most difficult part of this dessert is waiting on them to finish in the oven.  They are baked at a very low temperature and depending on the humidity wherever you are, can take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.  That's the downside.  The upside?  You'll have a light, refreshing summertime dessert.  Serve them up with your favorite fresh fruit and you are all set!  I love using summer berries in mine and had picked up some beautiful blueberries and the last of this seasons strawberries from the farmers market.  Have I ever mentioned how amazing the farmers market is here in Lexington?  It's worth a visit if you live anywhere nearby. 

One of my favorite holidays is Independence Day.   I always have and always will love the way my family celebrates this festive event.  Lately we all gather at my aunt and uncle's farm which just happens to be my mom's old homestead.  I am so thankful that we have been able to keep this special place in our family.  My uncle builds a big bon fire that is used to roast hot dogs and later, to roast marshmallows for s'mores because honestly, what kind of a cookout doesn't have s'mores?  I once met someone who had never in his life experienced s'mores and what?  I digress. The rest of the meal is made up of simple foods like baked beans, deviled eggs, and watermelon with a few random salads thrown in there.  All in all, it's the perfect family dinner.  

When we were younger, and my grandparents were still around, the family owned a farm that had a creek that travelled through it.  That was our spot for all summer gatherings.  Uncle Lemmie would bring out the fishing boat and take us all for rides while the rest of the family would fish from the "shore" which was really just a dry creek bed.  Of course every 4th of July was capped off with some fireworks.  I have such fond memories of my childhood and I'm so fortunate that my family continues to make memories.  

What are some of your traditions for summer holidays?  Let me know!  I love hearing from you guys!

Egg Kisses

Yields about 24 

6 egg whites, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 225 degrees.

Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat until foamy.

Add cream of tarter and vanilla.  Begin adding sugar about 1/4 cup at a time until fully incorporated.

Continue beating on a high speed until stiff peaks form.

Transfer to a plastic bag with a piping tip attached.

Pipe the egg whites onto a foil lined baking sheet or spoon them on, making sure to form a well in the center.  I suggest about 2 inches in diameter.

Place baking sheets in oven.  Reduce temperature to 200 degrees.  Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  This could take a little longer depending on the humidity in your area.  

Try to refrain from opening the oven for the first 1 1/2 hours.  When the egg kisses feel dry and are not longer sticky, they are finished.  They should easily pull away from the foil.

Top with fresh fruit and enjoy!

Sweet and Spicy Broccoli

I feel like I really needed to say something outrageous in the opening sentence of this post since the word broccoli is in the title. I failed. Miserably.  I haven't been able to find a reason to get excited about broccoli since I was about 10 years old and only then if it were smothered in cheese and buttery, delicious crackers.  The times, well they're changing. Roasting broccoli has given this sad, soft, overcooked side dish a new life and I, for one, could not be more excited! 

I'm making every attempt to eat seasonal and to eat local.  I've been shopping less and less at the national retailers and spending more time tracking down local, organic and in-season ingredients. In Lexington and many parts of Kentucky, this is extremely easy to find. Lucky for me I've  spent less time tracking and more time enjoying the beautiful bounty provided by Kentucky's wonderful, friendly farmers.  I enjoy my weekend mornings at the farmers market in downtown Lexington and always look forward to the goodies I will find each week. 

In addition to eating local, I've set a goal to eat at least one green item every day. It sounds a lot easier than it has been for me due to my obsession with desserts lately.  I actually love green vegetables: zucchini, Brussels sprouts, kale, lettuce, collards, green beans and most recently, mustard greens, thanks to Katie Lee (yes, I know there are other green veggies. Just listing the ones I partake in regularly) I knew I needed to add broccoli to that list so I decided to join the cool kids and roast some for dinner one night. I saw a bunch of posts for broccoli with lemon and parm and that sounds amazing but this particular night I was leaning in a different direction. I needed something sweet and savory. Not only just savory but something with a kick and I knew just the thing: red pepper flakes. I am in love with the flakes. I put them on pizza, greens, potatoes.... I could go on but I won't. Instead, I'll just post this recipe.

Are there any vegetables you've fallen out of love with lately? Have you tried reinventing them by roasting or grilling? Let me know what you've come up with!  

Sweet and Spicy Broccoli

1 head of broccoli, chopped

1 tablespoon canola oil 
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less depending on the level of spiciness)
1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

In a small bowl, combine the oil, red pepper flakes and brown sugar.  Add the chopped broccoli to a ziplock bag and pour the oil mixture into the bag.  Shake well.

Transfer the contents of the bag onto a foil lined baking sheet.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and serve!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Sausage and Cheese Strata

You guys. Host a brunch this weekend and make this Sausage and Cheese strata. On second thought. Don't host a brunch. Just make this and save it all for yourself. 

I come from a long line of casserole lovers--broccoli casserole, corn pudding, chicken casserole, and growing up I always looked forward to family functions because I knew I would always leave full and happy (read stuffed and miserable because I just never knew, I mean know, present tense, when to stop).  Then came a very dark time in my life when I shunned the casserole. I felt they were outdated, old fashioned and frankly, I was embarrassed by the amount of casseroles my family ate. I guess I just fell into the wrong group with food snobs or maybe they were uninformed. Since moving back to Kentucky, the prodigal daughter has returned to her love of casseroles--well, some of them. Sweet potato casserole always has and always will gross me out. It's a texture thing. 

One casserole I am definitely on board with, is the breakfast variety. I have never met a breakfast casserole that I didn't like and I have had some interesting examples show up. For instance, someone I know uses stove top in their breakfast casserole. You read that right. Stove top. Weirdly delicious. My absolute favorite breakfast casserole though, is my Gom-gom's Sausage and Cheese Strata. Savory sausage, cheese and creamy eggs baked into two layers of bread. I mean, what? If that's not heaven in a 9x13 baking dish, I don't know what is.

It's hard to believe, but Gom-gom has been gone now for almost twenty years. We're so fortunate to be able to keep our loved ones memories' alive through the items they left behind. I'm so grateful that she had so many handwritten recipes. Sometimes I'm not grateful that she wrote them on random pieces of envelopes, old checks and scrap paper. I would have loved to have been able to frame some of them for my kitchen. Oh well.  I'm just thankful that I can keep her with me! What are some of your favorite family recipes?  Were you lucky enough to have handwritten recipes you can frame or show off in your decor?  Let me know!

Notice the multiple colors of ink used on this recipe

Cheese and Sausage.  Yum!

Sausage and Cheese Strata

4 eggs, beaten
3 cups milk
11-12 pieces of bread
1 pound of sausage, browned
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Butter a 9x13 baking dish. 

Lightly butter each piece of bread. Place one layer of bread in the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with half of the sausage and half of the cheese. 

Place another layer of bread in the dish followed by the remaining sausage and cheese. 

In a mixing bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Pour this mixture over the bread, sausage and cheese. 

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or eggs have set. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving. 

Serve at your next brunch with fresh fruit or store in the fridge and break the fast with it all week.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Artichoke Bruschetta

Lexington is overflowing with fabulous sites, sounds and of course, food. I'm not going to lie, I do a terrible job of sightseeing in my own town but if you ask my opinion, I'll tell you exactly what businesses or events you should hit up while in town. Recently I found a new favorite Lexington activity: Talon winery on a Friday night.  They have a great selection of wines, live music and the scenery, well, that just speaks for itself

That's kind of pretty, right? 

Are you wondering exactly what this post is about yet? I think you're all used to my rambling by now. 

Artichokes. Sometimes I crave them. In a dip form. With mayo and cream cheese and Parmesan cheese and garlic. Creamy, dreamy deliciousness. I happen to be craving it right now. 

So those ingredients basically make up Artichoke Brushcetta. It's easy to throw together and can be served at room temperature. The artichoke mixture can be made a day or two ahead, stored in the fridge and then baked the day you're planning on devouring this two-bite finger food. And yes, devour is an appropriate word. 

I used jarred artichokes but canned or frozen would work too. You might want to marinate the frozen artichokes in a little vinegar or lemon juice to give them the tangy-ness of the jarred and canned variety. Feel free to use fresh too. Then come over to my house to teach me how to work with fresh artichokes. They intimidate me.  Another note for you: use white bread. Plain sandwich bread is perfect for this. Go ahead and knock yourself out with the fancy bread if you need to or already have some on hand, but don't buy it especially for this recipe. Should I have changed the name to redneck bruschetta since it uses white bread? Never mind. 

Artichoke Bruschetta will be a perfect addition to your next cocktail party or a night hanging with your friends at a beautiful winery. Go ahead. Eat, drink and be merry!

Artichoke Bruschetta

1 (12 ounce) jar marinated artichokes, drained and roughly chopped
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup parmigiano cheese, grated
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of salt
Black pepper
24 pieces of white bread

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor or mixing bowl, mix cream cheese, mayo, cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Stir in the artichokes.  

Spread 1-2 tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture onto slices of white bread.  Place on a foil lined baking sheet.

Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until bubbly.  Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board and cut in halves or quarters.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Chipotle Lime Butter

As far as I'm concerned, nothing says summer more than corn on the cob.  Grill it, boil it, roast it in the oven.  Cut it off the cob and eat it raw.  I don't care how you serve it, I will eat it.  My absolute favorite, go-to summer meal is grilled corn on the cob, fresh green beans and a sliced tomato.  I'm all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.  

Speaking of fresh produce--my garden is thriving despite the late start it got.  I kept waiting for a local store to put out their organic seed starter.  I started looking for it in January because there were some early spring crops I wanted to put out but they kept telling me it was too early.  Finally by the end of March, I gave up and found another organic seed starter.  I definitely didn't get the head start I had last year.   I started some broccoli rabe which I was beyond excited about.  However, the rabbits immediately made it their lunch as soon as it was transplanted.  Well played rabbits, well played.  In turn, I bought some chicken wire, rigged it up with some thumbtacks (thanks, mom for that brilliant idea) and have had no issues with those rascals since.  I have two different tomatoes, a slicing and san marzano for sauces, zucchini, radishes, english cucumbers, green beans, rosemary, kale and some eggplant that I don't think will make it due to bugs eating the leaves.  As an organic gardener, this has been my biggest struggle yet.  What do you use to keep the bugs from munching on your veggies?  Please help!  Leave me a comment or email me if you have any suggestions.  I was super excited to make an eggplant jerky that my friend Cameron put on instagram.  Oh well.  Maybe next year.

Why am I writing this post?  I get distracted when talking about my garden.  Oh, yeah.  Butter.  If you do a quick search for corn on the cob, you'll see a wide array of delicious looking butters and cheeses being spread on this summer time treat.  Obviously I had to get in on this and since I love butter it was not a difficult task.  During the summer months I always have plenty of limes and cilantro because you never know when you're going to have a salsa emergency.  I honestly can't believe how much I love cilantro now.   I couldn't stand it for years.  As a prep cook in the first restaurant I worked at I made pico every single day and could not get away from the stuff fast enough.  I thought it tasted like dish soap.  Now though, I could put it in everything.  I also normally have some chipotles in adobo in my fridge or freezer too.  I've never found a recipe that uses an entire can.  In my opinion, a little goes a loooong way.  They are so delicious though and add that fantastic smokiness to any dish you throw them in.  That's why they're perfect in this butter.  Plus, it adds such beautiful color.  The red of the chipotle and the green from cilantro and the butter melting and oozing down the side of the corn.  Man, I am hungry.  And drooling a little. 

Speaking of butter--use the real stuff.  Please.  I beg you.  Do not insult the fresh, sweet summer corn by using margarine or some junk where you can't believe it's not butter.  Believe it.  It's not.  So go on, whip up this butter and use it tonight when you grill out.  I'm kind of bossy, aren't I?

What other flavor combinations do you use with butter?  Have you tried compound butters yet?  I'm kind of obsessed.  Especially when they're topping a steak.  This particular butter would be fantastic on chicken or fish.  Just put a dollop on top once you've removed it from the grill.  Tent it with some aluminum foil while you're letting it rest, before serving.  You won't be disappointed.

Chipotle Lime Butter

5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 chipotle pepper, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 lime, juiced

In a small bowl, mix all ingredients until well combined.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to marry.

Spread on corn or vegetables of your choice.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Corn and Black Bean Salsa

Salsa is good.  No matter how you slice, er, serve it.  It is an essential part of my summer and sometimes it's dinner.  It can't be that bad, right?  Fresh, cool, organic ingredients with zesty lime simply cannot be beat on a hot day.  Salsa is a staple in my fridge during the summer months and if it's not in there, well, it's a clear indication I just polished it off and haven't had a chance to make more. 

I feel like new salsa flavors are catching on like wild fire and I sometimes tend to stay on the more conservative or basic side of salsa--you know, tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, lime and cilantro. I'm learning to branch out and I'm starting slowly with this simple, tangy and colorful mixture of veggies like black beans,  roasted corn, tomatoes and jalapeño.  I feel fruity salsas coming this summer--mango, strawberry, pineapple.  Sounds so refreshing that I can almost taste it piled on grilled fish or chicken.  Or maybe even pork.  Or a salad, sandwich, taco... Ok, you get the drift. 

If you're wondering, yes, I did eat the entire contents of this bowl in a matter of three short days.  How you ask?  First, I dunked some corn chips in it.  Then I piled it on top of salad greens, added some extra veggies like avocado, red pepper, cucumber and an extra squeeze of lime and finally, it topped a grilled chicken breast for dinner one night.   Oddly enough I never threw it in a taco.  I'll put that on my to-do list right now.  

For this recipe I used frozen, organic corn. Obviously fresh corn would be completely perfect.  Just keep a close eye on it while roasting.  I also used a can of organic black beans, drained and rinsed and some jalapeños from my garden last year that I pickled and canned.  I love the zip and zest they add!  The remainder of the ingredients were fresh from a local market here in town.  Feel free to put your own spin on it and add some other local produce from your neck of the woods!  Throw in an avocado before serving because who doesn't love avocado? Leave me a comment when you do!  I love the creativity and hearing from you guys!

So, what are you waiting for?  Get to it!  This will be a great appetizer to bring along to the next barbecue you're invited to!

Corn and Black Bean Salsa

1 (16 ounce) bag frozen corn
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
1 large tomato, diced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno, or more to taste
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place frozen corn on a foil lined baking sheet brushed with olive oil.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine beans, green onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeño, apple cider vinegar, lime juice, cumin, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl.  Mix well.  Once corn has cooled, mix in with the rest of the ingredients.  

Serve with your favorite tortilla chips, as a topping for tacos or enjoy over your favorite grilled meat.

Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.