Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Loaded Potato Skins with Spicy Ranch

As I sit and wait for my next class to start, all I can think about is getting out of here. This is one long day for me, and I am so ready to be home & have some time to relax. But one thing that always seems to cheer me up is yummy, greasy, not-good-for-ya food. We all know that I have expressed my deep love for tailgatin' food, especially coming from the University of Alabama, so now that college football has ended (sad face), at least there is one more thing to look forward to, and that's the Super Bowl. It's really the one time of the year that almost every person has a party, even if they aren't involved or excited about sports, which I think is something to celebrate. I have a few favorites that will always be served at my shindigs like my jalapeno popper dipcrazy-good spinach-artichoke dip, and my always-requested candied bacon-wrapped smoked sausages. But, here's a new recipe that is sure to please. My Loaded Potato Skins are baked until crispy & crunchy, then stuffed full with thick cut bacon, lots of melted cheese, and zippy green onions, and served with a spicy ranch for dippin'. I realize that these babies don't sound that crazy, or unique, or "out-of-the-box, which I typically do with all my food. Sometimes, you just need a classic recipe, that'll never fail ya. And that's what this is. It's a recipe that will please every taste bud at your party, so you don't have to worry about them not getting gobbled up. They will be gone in a second!! Enjoy :)
Loaded Potato Skins with Spicy Ranch
Potatoes, Cheese, & Bacon... Can it get any better?
For the Loaded Potato Skins:
6 Small Russet Baking Potatoes
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
Vegetable Oil
Montreal Steak Seasoning
Cajun Seasoning
12-15 Slices of Thick Cut Bacon, Cooked until Crispy & Roughly Chopped
1C Pepperjack Cheese, Grated
1C Yellow Cheddar Cheese, Grated
Fresh Green Onions, Thinly Sliced

For the Spicy Ranch:
1T Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix
½C Mayo
½C Sour Cream
½C Buttermilk
¼t Coarse Black Pepper, Paprika, & Garlic Powder
Hot Sauce, To Taste
1. Scrub the potatoes clean, and then toss them in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake the potatoes in an oven at 400°F for about an hour until the potatoes are cooked through and give a little when pressed.
2. While the potatoes are cooking, cook the bacon strips in a frying pan until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Let cool, and then roughly chop.
3. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let cool enough to handle. Cut in half horizontally. Use a spoon to carefully scoop out the insides, reserving the scooped potatoes for another use, leaving about 1/4 of an inch of potato on the skin.
4. Increase the heat of the oven to 450°F and brush the vegetable oil all over the potato skins, outside and in. Sprinkle with Montreal steak seasoning and Cajun seasoning. Place on a baking rack in a roasting pan (don't use a cookie sheet, it will warp, use a roasting pan or broiler pan that can take the heat). Cook for 10 minutes on one side, then flip the skins over and cook for another 10 minutes (or until the potatoes are golden brown and beginning to crisp). Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle.
5. Arrange the potato skins skin-side down on the roasting pan or rack. Sprinkle the insides with the shredded cheese mixture and crumbled bacon. Return to the oven. Broil for an additional 2-5 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown & bubbly. Remove from oven. Use tongs to place skins on a serving plate. Sprinkle with green onions and serve with spicy ranch.
6. For the Spicy Ranch: Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl until smooth and creamy. Chill for at least an hour to help the flavors meld together.

source: potato skins.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Classic Mac n' Cheese

We made this classic mac n' cheese recipe to go along aside our sweet tea fried chicken, and it was the perfect accompaniment. There's nothing special about it, it's just classic & always consistent. No crazy flavors, just good ole' mac n' cheese. I especially loved the toasted croutons on top for the topping. Make this any time you are having a crowd over or just when you need a side that everyone will love!! Enjoy :)
Classic Mac n' Cheese
For the Mac n’ Cheese:
3T Butter
¼C AP Flour
2 ¾C Milk
Pinch of Nutmeg & Cayenne
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
2C Sharp White Cheddar Cheese, Shredded
1C Gruyere Cheese, Shredded
16oz Elbow Macaroni, Cooked
Bread Cubes, Toasted
¼C Parmesan Cheese, Grated 
2T Butter, Cut into Small Cubes  

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a casserole dish, and then set it aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the 3T butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, whisking, about 1 minute.
3. While whisking constantly, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep the mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, about 5-8 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the seasonings, 1 ½C cheddar cheese, and ¾C Gruyere. Set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Stir the cooked macaroni into the warm cheese sauce, and then pour the mac n’ cheese into the prepared casserole. Top the mac n’ cheese with the remaining ½C cheddar, ¼C Gruyere, toasted bread cubes, and cubes of butter.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the mac n’ cheese is hot & bubbly.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Date Night : Sweet Tea Brined- Fried Chicken with Classic Mac n' Cheese & Haricot Vert

I've been on a fried chicken kick lately. Not good for my health obviously, but it's just so delicious. It's my ultimate favorite meal. Well, besides shrimp & grits. There is just something so satisfying about biting into crispy fried chicken that is still moist and juicy on the inside. And, I feel like it's one of those things that you can eat casually or dress it up for a nice dinner. And that's what we did, here's another round of our favorite night of the week, Date Night! I know that many people have all these secrets to the "best fried chicken", and to be honest, I don't think there is necessarily a recipe that I can give that title to because I think they are all amazing. Whether they are just tossed in flour, brined, marinated in buttermilk, or covered in a special spice rub, I love 'em all. And I crave them all in different ways. Sometimes I want a spicy fried chicken, like the delicious Nashville Hot Chicken that we made, or I want just classic fried chicken with some hot sauce & honey (hey, I know it sounds weird, but don't knock it till you try it). However, I had come across a recipe for fried chicken that was a little sweet on the inside. How was it sweet you ask? The chicken is brined in sweet tea, and then breaded and deep fried. Um yum... I had to try it. This Sweet Tea Brined-Fried Chicken was just fancy enough for Date Night, but still down home cookin' y'all. We served our chicken with Classic Mac n' Cheese (which I will post this weekend) and some sauteed Garlic Haricot Vert. This meal was perfect in every way for me, and I will say my Mountain Man enjoyed it as well. And you wanna know what, it was even better the next day!! Enjoy :)
Date Night: Sweet Tea Brined-Fried Chicken with Classic Mac n' Cheese & Garlic Haricot Vert
Up Close & Personal of the Awesome Sweet Tea Chicken
For the Sweet Tea Brine:
1Q Cold Water
2 Gallon-Sized Tea Bags
1C Sugar
1 Lemon, Quartered
1/3C Sea Salt
2lb Chicken Wings & Chicken Drumsticks

For the Fried Chicken:
Sweet Tea Brined Chicken
1C AP Flour
4T Cornstarch
Paprika, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, & Pepper
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
1C Buttermilk
1t Hot Sauce
Peanut Oil, For Frying

1. For the Brine: Bring the cold water to a hard boil and remove from the heat. Add the tea bag and steep for 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags and add the sugar, stir until dissolved. Add the lemon quarters and salt, and stir. Put in a nonreactive bowl and refrigerate to chill for 8-12 hours. Make sure the brine is completely cold before adding the chicken. Put the wings and drumsticks into a Ziploc bag and pour in the brine over the chicken. Let it refrigerate for 4-8 hours. Once brined, drain & dry the chicken and set aside.
2. Frying the Chicken: In a deep fryer, heat the canola oil to 350 degrees. Next, you have to set up a battering station. I use 2 pie tins for all of my stations. For the first station, mix together the flour, cornstarch, pepper, and garlic salt. For the second station, whisk together the buttermilk, hot sauce, and the egg. Dredge the brined chicken into the flour mixture, then into the egg wash, then back into the flour. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Carefully add the chicken to the hot oil and fry until golden and fully cooked, about 10-12 minutes depending on your fryer. Transfer to a baking sheet and keep warm in the oven until ready to serve.
3. Serve with the mac n’ cheese and green beans. It’s also great served with a drizzle of honey and hot sauce. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chicken Caesar Salad Pizza

Wanna know something I am loving right now? Pizza + Salad. Together. It's delicious. We discovered this trend at Mellow Mushroom the other weekend, and we loved it. Now, I can't stop thinking of all the combinations that I want to make... cobb salad pizza, thai chopped salad pizza, and so many more. Basically it's a hot pizza with a cold, tossed salad on top. So for my Chicken Caesar Salad Pizza, I topped some dough with pesto, lots of cheese, roasted chicken, crispy pancetta, and sun dried tomatoes. Then, I piled on a salad of romaine lettuce that is dressed with homemade caesar dressing, and finally garnished it with some freshly shaved parmesan. It was absolutely wonderful. So hearty, yet you feel somewhat better because there's a salad on top. I mean instantly, it's healthy because that's involved, right? Right. That's how Southerners think anyway!! Enjoy :)
The Cold Salad Topping: Romaine Lettuce Tossed in Homemade Caesar Dressing & Fresh Parmesan
The Hot Pizza Base with Pesto, Cheese, Roasted Chicken, Pancetta, & Sun Dried Tomatoes
Chicken Caesar Salad Pizza
For the Pizza:
1 Pizza Dough
Homemade Pesto
2C Mozzarella Cheese, Shredded
1C Provolone, Shredded
¼C Parmesan, Grated
Roasted Chicken, Sliced
Crispy Pancetta, Crumbled
Sun Dried Tomatoes, Julienned

For the Homemade Caesar Dressing:
1T Garlic, Minced
2T Fresh Parsley, Minced
2t Anchovy Paste
1t Dijon Mustard
2T Lemon Juice
½C Mayo
¼C Sour Cream
¼C Parmesan, Grated
For the Caesar Salad Topping:
1 Head of Romaine Lettuce, Roughly Chopped
Prepared Caesar Dressing
Shaved Parmesan
Salt & Pepper, To Taste

1. For the Homemade Caesar Dressing: Add all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk until smooth and incorporated. Set it aside.
2. For the Pizza: Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and arrange the rack in the bottom half of the oven. Roll out the pizza dough until very thin on a pizza pan. Spread a thin layer of homemade pesto. Top with shredded mozzarella & provolone, grated Parmesan, sliced roasted chicken, crispy pancetta, and sun dried tomatoes. Bake the pizza for 10-15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.
3. While the pizza is baking, toss the romaine lettuce with the prepared Caesar dressing until coated.
4. Remove the pizza from the oven and top it with the tossed salad. Garnish the top with shaved Parmesan.
5. Cut into slices and serve immediately.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Perfect Bourbon-Chocolate Chunk-Pecan Pie with Homemade Crust (a.k.a Friday Pie)

Bourbon. Chocolate Chunks. Pecan Pie. Three things that should go hand-in-hand... permanently. This pie is the bomb. As a Southerner, I obviously love pecan pie. We have it at every holiday. It truly is a main-stay in our home. But if you add some good ole' bourbon and dark chocolate chunks into the mix, well my friend, you have a perfect pie in my eyes. The bourbon complements the dark brown sugar and corn syrup, but also gives an amazing depth to the dessert that is missed without it. And then, the dark chocolate chunks, not chips, chips are whimpy to me, so go get yourself a good bar of chocolate and whack it up into chunks and toss it into the pie shell. It really makes a difference. The chocolate stays melted throughout the pie and gives it a nice creaminess, but also a bitterness to balance all the sweetness. Just a lot of "ness" as you can see. Yum is really all I can say. Don't save this perfect pie for holidays, make it every day (I know it's not realistic). I just started calling it "Friday Pie" because I tend to make this almost every friday to enjoy throughout the weekend!! Enjoy :)
The Topping is Perfectly Crispy & Crackly, but Underneath is Amazing Gooey-ness!! 
Perfect Bourbon-Chocolate Chunk-Pecan Pie with Homemade Crust
For the Homemade Crust:
1 ¼C AP Flour (plus extra for rolling)
½t Salt
1 ½t Sugar
1 Stick of Unsalted Butter, Very Cold
3-4T Ice Water

For the Bourbon Chocolate Chip Pecan Pies:
1C Sugar
2T Brown Sugar
½t Salt
1C Dark Corn Syrup
1t Vanilla
½C Browned Butter, Melted & Slightly Cooled
3 Whole Eggs, Beaten
2C Toasted Pecans, Chopped
½C Chocolate Chunks   
2T Bourbon

1. To Make the Pâte Brisée: Start by cutting the sticks of butter into ½inch cubes and placing in the freezer bag, along with the flour, salt, and sugar. Place the bag of flour into the freezer and chill for at least 1-2 hours. In a food processor, pour the frozen flour bag in and pulse 6-8 times until the mixture resembles a course meal, with pea size pieces of butter. Add water 1T at a time, pulsing until the mixture just begins to clump together. If you pinch of some of the crumbly dough and it holds together then it’s ready. Remove the dough from the machine and place on a clean surface. Shape the dough into a disc. Do not over knead the dough. You should still be able to see little bits of butter in the dough. Sprinkle the discs with a little flour on all sides and wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour. Remove the disc from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes. Sprinkle some flour on top of the disc. Roll out with a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to a 12inch circle (1/8inch thick). Place rolled out disc on to a deep dish spring form pan, lining up the fold with the center of the pan, trimming the excess and crimping the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 30 minutes.
2. To Make the Pecan Pie: Mix together the sugar, brown sugar, salt, corn syrup, browned butter, eggs, vanilla, and bourbon until smooth. Toss together the chopped pecans and chocolate chips until combined. Pour them into the bottom of the unbaked pie shell. Pour the liquid mixture over the top of the pecans. Cover the top of the pie and crust gently with foil.
3. Bake the pie at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, remove the foil, and then continue baking for another 30-45 minutes. The pie should not be overly jiggly when you remove it from the oven, if it is then bake it for an additional 10-20 minutes (I baked my pie a total of an hour and a half, but sometimes I do need the extra cooking time).
4. Allow to cool for several hours or overnight.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Herbed Caramelized Onion Dip

This is the last part of our lovely picnic... Herbed Caramelized Onion Dip. Don't ya love some onion dip? I sure do. Especially with caramelized onions. I thought I would add an extra little zip with a bunch of different fresh herbs chopped up in there, and it was awesome! It would be perfect for entertaining or tailgating, and it makes a bunch, so you can feed a lot of people with it. We served ours with some baked vegetable chips, but you could obviously use it with anything!! Enjoy :)
Herbed Caramelized Onion Dip
For the Dip:
8oz Cream Cheese, Room Temperature
1C Sour Cream
½C Mayo
¼C Parmesan
4 Green Onions, Thinly Sliced
2T Fresh Parsley, Minced
1t Fresh Dill, Minced
1t Fresh Basil, Minced
1t Garlic, Minced
2 Sweet Onions, Sliced & Caramelized
Salt & Pepper, To Taste

1. Place all of the ingredients, except for the caramelized onions, in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend until smooth & incorporated. Fold in cooled caramelized onions.
2. Serve at room temperature with chips. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cranberry Limeade with Frozen Cranberries

With our Grilled Southern PB&J Sandwiches, we made Cranberry Limeade. I really love anything with citrus, more specifically lemonade or limeade. I saw some gorgeous fresh cranberries at the grocery store, so I bought a bag of them to freeze and use them as ice cubes to keep our drinks cold while we were at the park all day. This beverage is tart, yet refreshing & sweet. Just perfect for a picnic out at the park!! Enjoy :)
Cranberry Limeade with Frozen Cranberries
For the Cranberry Limeade:
2C Freshly Squeeze Lime Juice
1C Pure Cranberry Juice
Simple Syrup (2C Water & 2C Sugar)
2-3C Water
Frozen Cranberries (for ice cubes)

1. Heat 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water in a small saucepan; bring to a boil so that the sugar is completely dissolved, and remove from heat.
2. While the simple syrup is cooling, juice the limes.
3. Add limejuice, cranberry juice, 2-3 cups of cold water, the simple syrup, and frozen cranberries to a serving pitcher.
4. Serve cold.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Grilled Southern PB&J Sandwiches with Pimento Cheese, Bacon, & Tomato Jam

As many of y'all know, we go on picnics a lot. We would like to go on one once a week, but sometimes we just don't have time or the weather doesn't permit it. But, we most definitely make time for it eventually, especially for special occasions or holidays. Our last picnic wasn't for any specific reason, but it was an excuse to make a delicious sandwich, dip, and drink. The sandwich was my take on a PB&J... a grilled, Southern PB&J. So what are the components that classify this as a PB&J you ask? Well instead of peanut butter and jelly, there's pimento cheese, crispy bacon, and sweet tomato jam. You get everything you want from a sandwich... creamy, salty, smoky, sweet. It's the perfect grilled cheese, honestly. This Southern PB&J will go down as one of my favorite sandwiches that we have made. It just hits every note that it needs too. So go on and make this fo' yo'self, ya'hear?! Enjoy :)
Our Amazing Picnic
My Mountain Man & Baby Weezy
Grilled Southern PB&J Sandwiches with Pimento Cheese, Bacon, & Tomato Jam
Perfectly Grilled Bread
Look at all the bacon :)
For the Tomato Jam:
1lb Roma Tomatoes, Chopped & Cored
½C Sugar
1 Lime, Zested & Juiced
¼t Cinnamon & Allspice
½t Cumin
Pinch of Chili Powder
1t Hot Sauce
Salt & Pepper, To Taste
For the Sandwiches:
4 Slices of Crusty Country Bread, Fried in Bacon Grease until Golden Brown
8 Slices of Thick Cut Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Crispy
Homemade Pimento Cheese
Prepared Tomato Jam

1. To Make the Tomato Jam: Combine all the ingredients in a pan, bring to a boil, and then simmer, stirring often until the tomatoes have dissolved and the jam is thick & glossy, about 45 minutes. Set it aside until ready to serve on the sandwich.
2. To Make the Sandwich: On one of the fried bread slices, spread some of the tomato jam in an even layer. On the other slice bread, spread on a thick layer of the homemade pimento cheese, and then top with the slices of bacon. Put the two pieces of bread together, and then grill in a panini press or bake in the oven until the cheese has melted and the sandwich has heated through.

source: tomato jam.