Fall Bucket List {2014}

Fall is officially here.  And instead of wishing that I was still wearing my white jeans and drinking mojitos, I’m going to fall in love with fall.

Visit a pumpkin patch and carve the pumpkins with Big Guy.

Bake a pie.

Have a fire pit and just enjoy the crisp air (and perhaps a glass of wine).

Make homemade cinnamon rolls.

Clean out my closet and donate things I haven’t worn in the past year.

Make a batch of chili.

Update a room in the house with new pictures or prints.

Pumpkin beer tasting with Big Guy.

A total football Saturday at home – with no other plans.

Host a Sunday brunch.

What would be on YOUR fall bucket list?

Spicy-Sweet Chicken Lettuce Wraps {and a green goddess dip}

Football season is here and that means I’m whipping up a lot of “football food” in my kitchen on Saturdays.  Because let’s be honest, while I’m a huge ECU fan, I’m more of a food fan.

The term “football food” covers an array of food – everything from veggies and dip to messy ribs.  To me, the food depends on where you are – whether it be outside of the stadium in 40 degree weather or inside your living room.

But one thing is for certain, if we’re watching football, I’ve made something to nibble on.

Last weekend we had an away game at noon with plans that Saturday evening.  So I decided to keep the “football food” light.

The menu:

Spicy-Sweet Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Green Goddess Dip with veggies

chicken wraps

The chicken used a little help from the grocery store with a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken.  In a saucepan bring the following ingredients to a boil: apple cider vinegar, water, sugar, jalapeno slices, salt and garlic.  This is the spicy-sweet part of the recipe.  Allow the mixture to simmer for about 20 minutes and then remove from the heat and add in the grated carrots.  Let those soften for about 10 minutes and then add in the shredded chicken.  Once the chicken as “soaked” for about 5 minutes, drain and discard the remaining liquid.  Simply divide the chicken among the lettuce (I used romaine but I really wanted to use Bibb lettuce) and top with cucumber slices and peanuts.  The recipe called for mint, which I have growing abundantly outside, but I totally forget and did not remember until the plate was empty.

I thought the preparation was so weird for these chicken wraps but they ended up being delicious.  Super light with a little bit of sweet and a kick of spice with each bite.  The peanuts were the perfect amount of crunch while the cucumbers provided some freshness to the sweet-spicy chicken.

green goddess

And because no football food spread is complete with a dip – a Green Goddess dip.  The dip is so incredibly easy to make and would make a perfect salad dressing or condiment for so many dishes.  I chose to serve mine with a variety of dippers.  In a food processor, simply blend together an avocado, green onions, lemon juice, vinegar (I used white balsamic), water, EVOO, basil, parsley, chives, garlic, salt and pepper.  Add more water to thin out the dip.

I love this dip for so many reasons!  Not only was I able to use a variety of herbs from the garden but this dip is dairy free which means it’s safe to leave out on a table for hours without worrying about it going bad.  This is crucial if you’re outside tailgating on a hot day in the early months of football food season.

If you wanted the Green Goddess dip to be more Mexican-esque, add in cilantro instead of basil and use lime juice instead of lemon juice.  Use the herbs you have on hand – you really can’t go wrong!

Tomorrow’s tailgate scene is going to be a little different than the one above.  We have a home game which means we’re going and we have family coming into town to go to the game.

ECU vs UNC in 2010

Here’s the menu for our tailgate tomorrow:

Mimosas (duh).  Beer.

Chicken Salad (the same as the last time we played UNC – it seemed to have brought us luck)

Game Day Turkey and Cheese Sliders

Masters Pimiento Cheese

Ham Biscuits (thanks to the in-laws)

Smoked Salmon Dip (I’m really making this for myself – so good!)

Veggies and Crackers for dipping

Brown Sugar Dip with Fruit Kebabs

Pumpkin Spice Chex Mix (now this is specifically for my MIL and my sister-in-laws!)

Coconut-Cashew Oatmeal Cookies (I made these last weekend to repay someone for a favor and Big Guy was not happy that I only saved him three.)


Happy Football Food Eating!!!



Roasted Tomato Grilled Cheese

Imagine one of the most classic combos – grilled cheese and tomato soup.  Now combine the two and you have an ooey-gooey roasted tomato grilled cheese.    

This is officially my favorite grilled cheese sandwich to date.

And I loved using up some of what will probably be the last of our tomatoes (yep, they’re still growing and producing) in this summer-to-fall transition.

The sandwich couldn’t be easier to prepare but you do need a little bit of time in order to roast the tomatoes.

Simply halve and deseed a handful of plum tomatoes (I used 6 of our homegrown plum tomatoes).  Toss with garlic and olive oil and roasted at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

In a bowl, combine the mayo, cream cheese and cheddar cheese.

Once the tomatoes have roasted, pulse in a mini food processor along with fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper.

I veered off from the original recipe and I added the tomato mixture to the cheese mixture and mixed.  I then slathered 1/4th of the mixture onto a slice of bread and topped with another slice of bread.  (p.s. Udi’s Gluten-Free Millet-Chia bread is amazing!!!)  Cook the sandwiches on a panini press until toasted and all the cheese was melted.

This sandwich has all the flavors of your favorite soup and sandwich combo in each and every bite.  I loved the roasted tomato flavors with the sharp cheddar.  And the fresh basil gave the sandwich freshness.

I typically don’t like hot soup unless it’s cold out so this is the perfect sandwich for when you want the comforting combo but it’s “too hot out.”



One Bowl Carrot-Apple Muffins

Baking can be intimidating.

I’ve messed up a plenty of recipes in my kitchen because I just don’t like how precise you have to be in baking.

But this one bowl muffin recipe is fool-proof.  Seriously.

And they’re gluten-free.  And packed with goodness.

These carrot-apple muffins are full of texture from the grated carrot and apple and loaded with natural sweetness.

I served my muffin with a big spoonful of peanut butter – because that’s how I roll.  But these are great for breakfast on-the-go or a quick afternoon snack.

The muffins will make your house smell amazing and they kind-of-sort-of got me in the mood for fall.  I’m not quite there but these helped.

The warmth of the cinnamon and the nuttiness of the walnuts were perfect for a cooler morning.

Some changes I made to the recipe:  Instead of the flax egg, I used a real egg.  I also mixed my walnuts into the muffins so that they wouldn’t fall off – no one wants to lose their walnuts.  And I went the real apple route and grated the apple on a box grater and for the sweetener, I went with agave.

Go whip up a batch of these one-bowl muffins – it won’t take you long and you’ll have breakfast prepped for the rest of the week.

And the best part – there’s only one bowl to clean.



Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff

It’s beginning to feel like fall and I find myself wanting a hearty meal.  Stroganoff is one of those meals that is ultra comforting.  It makes you feel like you’ve been wrapped up in a blanket.  Warm and cozy.

Beef stroganoff can be heavy though.  And despite wanting it to be hearty, I’m not a fan of heavy meals.

Beef and Mushroom Stroganoff is not heavy at all.  The beef tenderloin is seared to perfection and then added to a silky smooth sauce that’s made from a combination of beef stock that’s thickened with cornstarch and them made creamy with sour cream (I actually used 2% Greek Yogurt).  You will think that this sauce is full of cream but it’s not.

I loved the addition of mushrooms and leeks in this stroganoff – the mushrooms gave it an even more meaty taste without the heaviness.  I used gluten-free noodles that were thin and reminded me of the traditional egg noodle that you would serve stroganoff over.

They secret to this recipe is really good beef tenderloin.  Big Guy purchased our beef from a small butcher shop in Durham called Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop.  The minute you start buying quality meat (and cheese and eggs) you won’t go back to the mainstream products.  You can actually taste the difference.

We served our beef and mushroom stroganoff with an incredible red wine that enhanced the smokiness of the paprika in the dish and really brought out the flavors of the beef.

Dinner is served.

SoCo {officially my favorite}

Asking me to pick my favorite food or restaurant is, in my opinion, like asking a mother or father to pick their favorite child.

It’s impossible.

And unfair.

But after a date night last week, I can without a doubt tell you that SoCo is my favorite restaurant.

I rarely go to a restaurant more than once.  There are just so many out there that I want to try so why waste time eating at the same one over and over again?

SoCo is an exception.

Every single time is a new experience.  They exquisitely pair wine with food in a way that excites me and makes me giddy.  A true sign of your favorite restaurant.

But I think the best part of SoCo is how “at home” I feel when I dine in their renovated barn that serves as the restaurant.

Last week, during our most recent visit, we had a lot of one-on-one time with Kimberly, as we were the only table that night.  And while I hated it for their business, I loved being about to talk and get to know her better.

SoCo is an extension of their home.  Literally.  And it’s only possible because they put everything they have into the beautiful 11-acres that they own.

And I know I’ve done a review of SoCo multiple times, but I can’t help myself.  The food inspires me.  Meals at SoCo make me feel alive.



SALAD: Smoked Eggplant, Sweet Potato and Tomato Salad with chili-sorghum dressing, chopped peanuts and spiced yoghurt

Dinner started off with a powerhouse of flavors.  The Indian-spiced yogurt was insanely luscious and paired so perfectly with the sweet and smokey vegetables.  By this point in the season, most people are a little tired of using tomatoes on salads so I was thrilled to see them cooked and seasoned in a way that was new to my palate.  The crunchy peanuts on top were a brilliant move and my favorite bite included a little bit of the yogurt with a chunk of sweet potato and a bit of peanut.

pork belly


SECOND:  Smoked Nature’s Farm Free Range Pork Belly with watermelon & pear gazpacho, goat cheese crema, and Cardinal Farm Hops oil

Melt-in-your-mouth pork resting in a bowl of sweet gazpacho completely blew my taste buds away.  The coolest part of the soup was being able to see the trees from which the pears grew from the table we were sitting at.  (p.s. we have now deemed this “our” table.)



The most incredible part of this dish was the wine pairing.  Pairing pork belly with a rose was the farthest duo in my mind but it was absolutely brilliant pairing.  The lambent wine balanced the fatty, indulgent pork belly.  This was my favorite, most unexpected, pairing of the night.  And can we talk about the color of this wine?  Gorgeous.



ENTREE:  Roasted Local Vegetable Terrine with black rice, crispy farmhouse egg and charred sweet corn bisque

Where do I even begin with this plate of food?  Beautiful presentation and exquisite execution of the crispy farmhouse egg.  The egg was incredibly sweet which made me ask if it was actually crusted in coconut.  But the egg itself is sweeter than normal eggs and the corn bisque provided hints of delicate sweetness with every bite.  Black rice can be filed under my “current obsessions.”  Thick and almost chewy – I adore the textures in this dish.  The wine that was served with this plate was actually my favorite wine of the night – an “easy” red.  And I say “easy” because it could easily pair with any plate of food put in front of you or it could be enjoyed alone (I can’t believe I just said that).

molasses cake

SWEETNESS:  Molasses Cake with cereal crisp and citrus crème fraiche

When I realized that there wasn’t any chocolate on this particular menu I was a little disappointed.  But that quickly dissipated once I took a bite of this spiced cake.  The creme fraiche was more tart than sweet but it’s what was needed with the sweet, candied topping and cake.  And there was flecks of salt in the cereal crisp that really took this dessert to another level.

A flawless dinner – from the service to the wine to the beautiful plates of food.

SoCo is my favorite.


Friday Favorites.

Ain’t that the truth!  This weekend is going to be a good one.  We’ll be in town (thankfully!) and we have plans with friends for our Quarterly Supper Club, which is always too much fun, and we also have some down time at home.  A good mix, if you have me.  Here’s what I’m loving this week…

Favorite Bite:  Crazy Greek Feta, Sun-Dried Tomato and Pistachio Truffles.  Talk about a bite full of flavor.  Salty, creamy, crunchy and herbaceous.  These will be happening soon.

Favorite Q&A:  I need to take a few pointers from this Q&A page in Southern Living.  I think pillows are a great way to change a room up without spending too much money.


Favorite Slice:  Caramelized Apple, Bacon,  and Blue Cheese Pizza.  You know I love strange pizza topping combinations.


Favorite Throw-Back:  Banana Crunch Cake.  This particular recipe was one of two winners at the 1973 Pillsbury Bake Off.  How fun it is to revisit old recipes!


Favorite View:  How amazing is this photo of Skagit Valley Tulip Fields in Mt. Vernon, Washington State?  I adore tulips and this picture had me captivated.


Favorite Indulge:  Honey Mustard Fried Chicken Sliders.  But guess what?  You don’t have to feel bad because they’re mini.  I would jump and cheer for any football team if I got to devour these while watching.

Favorite Fresh:  Green Goddess Dressing.  I’m really going to miss all the herbs once the cold weather arrives.  So I’m eating everything and anything using fresh herbs until then and this would be an amazing dip for veggies.


Favorite Mess:  Jalapeno and Cheddar Pretzel Dogs with Turkey Chili Cheese.  Ummm, why weren’t these around when I was on the quest for a trashy hot dog to make on my Summer Bucket List?


Favorite Sip:  The Bootleg Cocktail.  I really don’t know who I am anymore craving all these gin cocktails.  But I do know that weekends require delicious drinks.