Saturday, December 31, 2011

Our Top 10 Favorite Recipes of 2011: Savory & Sweet

As I mentioned yesterday, my Mountain Man & I decided to compose a list of our favorite recipes from this last year. There are so many to pick from that we actually had to make two lists... savory & sweet. These dishes weren't what y'all viewed most or what's the prettiest, but what we loved to eat and what we would want to make over and over again. They aren't in any particular order because it's just too hard to list one over the other. I hope that you have a wonderful New Years Eve celebration... we are actually about to head downtown for a date at out favorite restaurant, and then out to party & watch the fireworks!! Enjoy :)

Top 10 Favorite Recipes of 2011: Savory

Angry Mussels with Grilled Truffle Bread
Candied Bacon Wrapped-Smoked Sausages with BBQ Sauce
Kicked Up Caprese Panini
Chicken Fried Steak with Bacon-Chive Gravy 
Jalapeno Popper Sandwich with Sassy Jezebel Sauce
Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Pickled Red Onions, Jalapeno Coleslaw, & Fried Pickles
Revamped: The Most Amazing Fried Green Tomato BLT with Savannah Remoulade Sauce
The Most Ridiculous Blackened Cajun Shrimp & Pimento Cheese Grits with Tomato-Tabasco-Andouille Gravy, Collard Green Pesto, Crispy Soft Poached Eggs, & Candied Bacon
Seared Steak & Goat Cheese Polenta with Balsamic-Sun Dried Tomato Jam, Caramelized Onions, & Arugula Pesto
Thai Pumpkin Soup with Crispy Goat Cheese Bombs, Chive Cream, & Candied Pepitas

Friday, December 30, 2011

Revamped: The Most Ridiculous Blackened Cajun Shrimp & Pimento Cheese Grits with Tomato-Tabasco-Andouille Gravy, Collard Green Pesto, Crispy Soft Poached Egg, & Candied Bacon

Welp, we're saving the best for the last. This will be the last "new" recipe for the year. I can't believe it's almost been a year since I started this blog. So crazy to me. I will be posting a list of our top ten favorite recipes from 2011 tomorrow, so please tune in to see what we loved the most. Anyway, back to this delicious meal that we made. I really can't put into words how much we are obsessed with it. I had made Shrimp & Pimento Cheese Grits in my first month of blog, and this new recipe kicks that recipe out the window if anyone is concerned. I added a bunch of different components that just makes it a knockout. This revamped version of shrimp & grits features blackened cajun shrimp, pimento cheese grits, tomato-tabasco-andouille gravy, collard green pesto, a crispy soft poached egg, and candied bacon. And if you are in culinary shock right now, you read the whole sentence correctly, it wasn't a dream. I know it's the most bizarre combination of ingredients, but it all comes together amazingly. I mean can this dish get any more Southern? I don't think so. The crispy soft poached egg was the game-changer for sure. I perfectly poached an egg, breaded it in panko, and then fried it until golden brown & crispy on the outside. But the glory of it all... when you cut into the center, the egg yolk is still deliciously runny. Next up, the tomato-tabasco-andouille gravy would be amazing on just about anything, I'm thinking about topping some homemade biscuits with it next. And for the collard green pesto (similar to a spinach pesto), it's acidity proves to be spectacular in balancing with all of the other creamy & spicy components. I can't wait to top some bread or chicken with this stuff. And don't forget the candied bacon, this was possibly the most important addition because it adds an unbelievable sweetness to the dish that can not be missed!! So please, I beg of you, make this. Make it on a birthday or celebration, make it for your husband, or just make it on a Wednesday night for all I care. Just make it. Because it is hands down the most delicious meal that we have ever had. It's so worth the heart attack in the future!! Enjoy :)

Here are the changes (if I lost you in my description):
1. I used a blackening cajun spice blend on the shrimp to make it extra-spicy
2. I used high-quality stone ground grits that are thick & hearty (I prefer Anson Mills' Grits)
3. I made a Southern tomato gravy with tabasco & andouille that adds a nice creaminess and heat
4. I made a collard green pesto that gives the dish some balance
5. I soft-poached an egg, and then breaded it & fried it until crispy and golden brown (uh-may-zing)
6. I garnished the plate with candied bacon and fresh chopped chives

Here's the view from the top!!
Blackened Cajun Shrimp, Pimento Cheese Grits, Tomato-Tabasco-Andouille Gravy, Collard Green Pesto, Crispy Soft Poached Egg, Candied Bacon, & Fresh Chopped Chives
Don't forget the candied bacon garnish... it's crucial!!
The Most Ridiculous Shrimp & Grits with Crispy Soft Poached Egg (look at that runny yolk)
For the Candied Bacon:
8 Strips of Thick Applewood Smoked Bacon
2t Light Brown Sugar (per slice of bacon)

For the Collard Green Pesto:
5C Fresh Collard Greens, Washed & Chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic
¼C Pecans, Toasted
½C Olive Oil
1/3C Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Salt & Pepper, To Taste

For the Tomato-Tabasco-Andouille Gravy:
1 (15oz) Can of Diced Tomatoes
1T Onions, Finely Chopped
4oz Chopped Pimentos
1C Chicken Stock
½C Butter or Rendered Fat (I used Andouille fat)
½C Andouille Sausage, Cut into Small Cubes
½C AP Flour
1C Half & Half
¼C Tabasco Hot Sauce
Salt & Pepper, To Taste

For the Crispy Soft Poached Egg:
1Q Water
1 ½t White Vinegar
1T Salt
4 Fresh Eggs
¼C AP Flour
¾C Panko
Canola Oil, For Frying
Salt, For Sprinkling 

For the Pimento Cheese Grits:
3C Chicken Stock
1 ½C Heavy Cream
1C Stone Ground Grits
2T Butter
1C Pimento Cheese
Salt & Pepper, To Taste

For the Blackened Cajun Shrimp:
1 ½lbs Wild Georgia Shrimp, Peeled & Deveined
2t Cajun Seasoning
1t Paprika
1t Dried Italian Seasoning
Fresh Black Pepper

For Garnishing:
Crispy Candied Bacon Lardons
Prepared Tomato-Tabasco Gravy
Crispy Soft Poached Eggs
Prepared Pimento Cheese Polenta
Blackened Cajun Shrimp
Fresh Chopped Chives

1. For the Candied Bacon: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the strips of bacon on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat. Sprinkle each slice of bacon with 2t of brown sugar. Bake for 12-16 minutes. Midway, flip the bacon over and drag them through the dark, syrupy liquid that’s collected on the baking sheet. Continue to bake until it is as dark as mahogany. Remove from the oven and cool the strips on a wire rack. Once the bacon is cool and crisp, chop into cubes.
2. For the Collard Green Pesto: Cook the greens in boiling water for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process, and then drain well. Process the garlic and pecans in a food processor until finely ground. Add the greens, oil, cheese, salt & pepper, and ¼C water. Pulse into smooth. Set it aside. 
3. For the Tomato-Tabasco Gravy: In a small pot, sauté the sausage on medium heat until all the fat has been rendered. Drain the sausage onto a plate, and then add the chopped onions to the fat and cook until tender. Whisk in the flour and let it cook for 2-3 minutes. Slowly pour the stock, while constantly whisking, until smooth. Add the tomatoes and its’ juices and chopped pimentos. Stir in the half & half and Tabasco hot sauce and let it simmer for 5-15 minutes or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm until ready to serve.
4. For the Crispy Soft Poached Eggs: Pour 1 quart of water into a saucepan that holds about 1.5 quarts. Add the vinegar and salt and heat the water to 205 to 208 degrees. (If you don't have a thermometer, bring the water just to a boil and then turn the heat down so that the bubbling stops. If the water is boiling when the eggs go in, the egg whites will tend to fly apart). Meanwhile, place a fine strainer over a custard cup, small ramekin or bowl. Crack one egg into it and let the egg sit, undisturbed, for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the strainer (with the egg still in it) and pour out any accumulated thin white from the cup. Carefully tip the egg into the cup. Repeat with the other egg and another cup. (If you have two small strainers, you can do the two eggs simultaneously). When the water is hot, tip the eggs, one at a time, into the pan. This works best if you place the lip of the cup right at the surface of the water and tip it quickly so the egg goes in all at once. The eggs will sit at the bottom of the pan for a minute or so, then start to bob toward the surface. For barely set whites and runny yolks, cook the eggs about 3 ½ minutes, depending on the temperature of the egg. If your eggs have been out of the refrigerator just long enough to strain, they'll still be cool. If they're at room temperature, then 3 minutes may be enough time. Check the first egg at 3 minutes. If the white around the yolk still looks translucent, give it an additional 30 seconds. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and, if desired, drain very briefly on a paper towel. (If the egg sits on the paper towel more than a couple of seconds, it may stick. Set up a battering station. I use 3 pie tins. For the first station, I mix the flour. For the second station, I whisk the eggs together. For the third station, use the Panko breadcrumbs. Now, place the soft poached eggs into the flour mixture, then into the egg wash, and finally the panko (making sure they are completely covered, but still doing it softly with your hands). In a medium sauté pan, heat about 2 inches of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil has heated, fry the goat cheese medallions for 45 seconds to 1 minute until golden-brown & crispy on all sides. Place them onto a baking sheet & sprinkle with salt.
5. For the Pimento Cheese Grits: Bring the chicken stock and heavy cream to a boil. Add in the stone ground grits in a thin stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes (adding salt & extra liquid if needed). When the polenta is done, whisk in the butter and pimento cheese. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with the shrimp. Keep the grits warm in the pot while you prepare the other components. 
6. For the Blackened Cajun Shrimp: In a small bowl, mix together all of the seasonings until combined. Toss the shrimp in spice mixture until coated. In a large sauté pan, melt some butter or oil. Add the seasoned shrimp and cook until just done and still tender (don’t overcook). Remove the shrimp from the sauté pan and set them aside on a plate until ready to serve.
7. Assembling the Shrimp & Grits: Scoop some of the pimento cheese polenta into a deep bowl, and then spoon the Tomato-Tabasco gravy around the outside edge (surround the outside of the polenta). Place the crispy soft poached egg on top and in the center of the polenta and scatter some of the blackened Cajun shrimp around it. Garnish with the candied bacon pieces and fresh chopped chives. Serve warm and enjoy!!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

General Tso's Chicken

To be completely honest, some of my favorite nights with the boyfriend are the nights where we order in some Chinese food and just watch a movie snuggled up on the couch. It really doesn't get much better than that, especially after a bad day. But, you don't always have to go to your favorite Asian restaurant for great take out food... you can recreate it at home! We've made teriyaki chicken, mongolian beef, and a few others, and they have always delivered. Well, I came across this recipe and I knew that we had to make it the next time we were craving some Chinese food. Neither of us had ever had General Tso's Chicken, but I knew that is a very popular dish, and the recipe looked easy enough, so we gave it a go. The dinner was easy to make and made tons of food, so we were sufficiently stuffed by the end of it. If you are a Chinese food lover just like us, definitely make this for an easy going dinner during the week, you will not be disappointed!! Enjoy :)
General Tso's Chicken
For the Chicken:
1 ½t Toasted Sesame Oil
1T Soy Sauce
1 Whole Large Egg White
¼C + 2T Cornstarch
1lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs, Cut into Bite-Size Pieces
Canola Oil, For Frying

For The Sauce:
1T Canola Oil
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2T Fresh Ginger, Minced
1C Chicken Stock
¼C Soy Sauce
1T Cornstarch
1t Chile-Garlic Sauce
3T Raw Sugar
2T Honey

For Serving:
Prepared Chicken & Sauce
Green Onions, Sliced
Steamed Rice
Steamed Broccoli

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the sesame oil, soy sauce, egg white, and ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch until a thick slurry forms. It will look gummy but smooth.
2. Add the chicken pieces and stir until all are evenly coated. At first it may appear that it will not come together but it will. Set chicken aside, covered lightly with plastic wrap, at room temperature for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally,
3. Add the tablespoon of oil to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat. Stir the garlic and ginger into the oil and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining sauce ingredients until smooth. Pour into the garlic and ginger, stirring, until the sauce becomes thick and shiny. Once the sauce thickens, lower heat and keep the saucepan over a low burner partially covered to stay warm.
5. Heat ½ inch of oil in a heavy-bottomed, high-sided frying pan or skillet over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add one piece of chicken at a time, taking care not to crowd the pan. Cook chicken for 4 minutes on each side, or until deep golden brown and crisp on both sides. Transfer the fried chicken to a paper towel lined plate and repeat the process until you’ve cooked all the chicken. Then slide all of the fried chicken into the prepared sauce and toss to coat. (If desired, add some steamed broccoli to coat with the sauce also.) Increase the heat to medium, stir and cook just until hot all the way through.
6. Serve the finished chicken on a bed of white rice along with steamed broccoli and sliced green onions.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Homemade Spicy Chex Mix

Well, I just arrived back in Savannah this afternoon, and I'm so glad to be back. Celebrating Christmas was fun in Atlanta, but I missed my Mountain Man dearly (he was in Birmingham), and I missed the warm weather. I still can't get over the fact that it is 70 degrees and sunny here, but freezin' cold just 4 hours away. So bizarre. Anyway, this recipe is perfect for any occasion or party really because it is simple to make & makes a huge batch, so you can feed a lot of people. It's also a simple, salty snack that people will keep grabbin' for all night. The glory about homemade chex mix is that you can alter it to your tastes. I obviously like my food quite spicy & flavorful, so I add a little bit more than the average person. Also, the chex cereal is my favorite, so I substituted that in for other ingredients. Just play around with it... it's pretty easy!! I hope you had a great holiday & enjoy :)
Homemade Spicy Chex Mix
For the Mix:
6C Corn or Rice Chex
4C Wheat Chex
3C Square Pretzels
4C Mixed Nuts
4C Cheese Crackers
2C Bugles
3 Sticks of Unsalted Butter, Melted
4-6T Worcestershire Sauce
6-12T Hot Sauce
1-2T Fresh Garlic, Minced
Cajun Seasoning, Paprika, Cayenne, Chili Powder, Garlic Salt, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper, and set them aside.
2. Mix the Dry Components: In a large bowl, mix together the chex, pretzels, nuts, crackers, and bugles until they are evenly incorporated.
3. Make the Seasoning: In a bowl, mix together the melted butter, Worcestershire, hot sauce, and garlic.
4. Make the Chex Mix: Pour the butter mixture over the mixed, dry components and toss to completely cover evenly. Separate the buttered chex mix evenly onto the prepared baking sheets. Spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the buttered chex mix with the seasonings listed above. Use as little or as much as you like, just do it to taste. I like mine very spicy, so sprinkle it heavily. Toss the cover.
5. Cooking the Mix: Bake for 3 hours, stirring & tossing every 30 minutes for even baking. Sprinkle with more seasonings throughout the baking process to coat more heavily. Once they have baked, remove from the oven and cool completely.
6. Serve in a large bowl. Store in airtight containers or Ziploc bags (this made about 2 large gallon-sized bags). 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Cranberry Sangria

I've got to keep this short & sweet since it's Christmas Eve n' all!! Happy holidays to everyone out there, and I hope that you are having a blast with your family and friends. We're actually enjoying this drink right now as I type and it really is just perfect for a Christmas party or a family meal. It's easy to make and definitely easy to slurp down!! Enjoy :)
Christmas Cranberry Sangria with Vanilla Bean
For the Sangria:
1 Large Orange, Sliced
1 Large Apple, Chopped
1 Large Pear, Chopped
12oz Bag of Fresh Cranberries
2 Cinnamon Sticks
2 Vanilla Beans
1 ½C Bottles of Red Wine
2C of Sparkling Cranberry Soda
½C Brandy
½C Sugar
1T Vanilla

1. Add orange slices, apples, pears, cinnamon sticks and cranberries to the bottom of a big pitcher. Pour wine, cranberry soda, brandy, sugar and vanilla extract over top. Scrape vanilla beans out of their pods and add to the mix. Then throw the entire empty vanilla beans in. Mix with a giant spoon to really combine everything.
2. Place in the fridge for about 1 hour before serving. Taste to determine if you’d like more sugar, and if so – add it! Spoon some of the fruit into glasses before pouring, then add ice and sangria on top. 

source: winter sangria

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Peppermint Bark Mint Oreos

Another day... another type of Oreo. However, these are the real Oreos and way easier!! I wanted to make more Christmas cookies, but I wanted something easy, and this is pretty dang simple. I bought a bag of mint Oreos (because they are the best everrrr), and I covered them in chocolate, sprinkled them with a little fleur de sel, topped them with white chocolate & some crushed peppermint. I know they are nothin' extravagant, but they are still quite tasty. Next year, I'm going to make this recipe, but instead I want to make a Girl Scout "Thin Mint" cookie and top it with the same peppermint bark topping. Yummmm. Is it sad I'm already looking forward to next year's Christmas? Probably!! Oh well, enjoy :)
Peppermint Bark Mint Oreos
So festive :)
For the Peppermint Bark Mint Oreos:
1 Bag of Mint Oreos
Milk Chocolate Bark, Melted
Fleur de Sel, For Sprinkling
White Chocolate Bark or Candy Cane Hershey Kisses, Melted
Red & Green Dye (optional)
Peppermint Candies, Crushed

1. Melt the milk chocolate bark in a large mixing bowl until smooth. Dip each cookie into the melted chocolate, turn with a fork to coat, and then shake the excess chocolate off by slightly banging the cookie against the side of the bowl (this will help the cookie to not develop a ring around itself). Transfer the cookies to parchment paper to set up until hard. Before they harden, sprinkle with a little fleur de sel.
2. Once the milk chocolate coating has set, melt the white chocolate in another mixing bowl until smooth. Spoon the white chocolate on top of the milk chocolate-fleur de sel into a thick layer. If you are going to use dye, drop 1-2 drops of each color dye on top of the white chocolate, and using a toothpick, swirl the colors to make a pretty design on top (however, you can skip this for a plain cookie). Garnish with crushed peppermint candies to your liking.
3. Let the white chocolate harden on top, and then enjoy!