Peanut Butter and Bacon Burger {with a Vietnamese Salad on the side}

You read that right.  Peanut butter on a burger.

And it was epic.

The whole burger thing came about after I purchased the meat grinder attachment for my mixer.  There was no way that the attachment was going to sit around the house for more than a week without being used.

We picked up some beautiful beef at Whole Foods on Sunday and Big Guy got to grindin’.  It was cook knowing exactly what the meat looked like before it was ground.  The key is to make sure that the attachment and the meat are very cold before you begin the process.

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The burger patties themselves were simple.  Meat.  Salt.  Pepper.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Building the burgers were rather simple, too.  And the ingredients aren’t that crazy.  It’s just the combination that’s crazy.

Crazy good.

The buns were Udi’s gluten-free buns.  Totally delicious but sometimes a little dry.

On top of the buns, Sriracha sauce followed by cilantro.

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On top of the cilantro came the perfectly cooked burger.

burger 008This is where things got weird.

A spoonful of peanut butter on top of the warm burger plus bacon.

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I ended up adding more Sriracha.

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The peanut drizzle.

That is where it’s at.

I know!  So bizarre.

I can’t even handle it.

But it was so incredibly delicious.

And to make myself not feel so bad about this decadent burger, a salad on the side.

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In the salad mix:  bok choy, cabbage, cucumber, basil and cilantro.  The dressing was a mix of lime juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, salt, sesame oil, honey, garlic and ginger.

Talk about a flavorful dinner.

Our taste buds didn’t know what was happening.

But they liked it.

 

Weekend Review {chapel hill style}

It’s totally a Monday.  And I’m not ready for Monday.

The weekend was absolutely perfect and I wish I could rewind a few days and do it all over again.

On Thursday night, I attended a Champagne and Sparking Wine tasting at the Country Club.  I was able to catch up with one of my girlfriends and it was lovely after a super long Thursday at work.

On Friday night, I sipped more champagne.

Saturday started off bright and early with a trip to the gym.  After a great workout, I was ready to head to Chapel Hill with Big Guy to celebrate 6 years of dating.  How beautiful are these flowers he got for me?

After a day of running around Chapel Hill and having lunch with his sisters, we started the night off at The Crunkleton.  I adore this bar and I cannot wait to go back.  The bartender made me an amazing champagne cocktail that included grapefruit juice and cucumber.  Yes, cucumber.  It was so refreshing and the most absolute perfect drink for me.  Big Guy savored Pappy Van Winkle’s 15Y Family Reserve bourbon.  Sometimes you just have to get out of town and date one another.  And I pray we have 60 more years of dating ahead of us.

I was so looking forward to our dinner on Saturday night.  I had made reservations at Lantern after reading so many amazing things about this restaurant.  Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  I’m not sure if I set the bar too high (hey, it’s on Gourmet Magazines Top 50 list as well as on Southern Livings 100 Places to Eat in the South) or if they were just having an off night.  They describe themselves as a “marriage of Asian flavors and North Carolina ingredients” but I just didn’t get as much Asian flavor as I had hoped for.

To start we shared two appetizers:

Lantern charcuterie – pork terrine, crispy rillettes, air-dried Red Poll beef, Chicken Bridge Bakery bolillo, local pickles

Salt and pepper shrimp – wild shrimp with crispy shells, fried jalapeños, coriander, sea salt

While I enjoyed the shrimp (Big Guy did not), I felt that the dish was missing something.  I wanted to dip the shrimp into an Asian-inspired sauce but there was no sauce.

And for my main dish:

Crispy whole Snapper Cha ca la Vong – hot chile, fresh turmeric, dill, fried shallots, roasted peanuts, spicy heirloom carrot salad, jasmine rice

First of all, the fish was cooked to perfection and the presentation was gorgeous.  However, the sauce was very much Mexican-inspired as opposed to the Asian-inspiration I was hoping for.  The sauce that was on Big Guy’s plate was what I wanted.

The service was fantastic, though it did take almost an hour to get our main dish but we can’t blame our waitress for that.  Despite the lack of Asian-flavors I still thoroughly enjoyed the night and I’m pretty sure that’s because I had the best date in the restaurant.

On Sunday morning we slept in and it was glorious.  Before heading back to reality, we grabbed lunch at Crook’s Corner.  I loved the atmosphere of this cafe.  The weather was amazing on Sunday and we got to sit out back on the patio.  To start, cheddar and jalapeno hush puppies.  Perfectly cooked and piping hot, these hit the spot.

And to eat, I went with their famous Shrimp and Grits.  But honestly, Big Guy’s lunch stole the show.

The most delicious bite of the trip – a pimiento and bacon grilled cheese.  I die.

 

I live for weekends like this past weekend.

Though some weeks are longer than others, knowing that I get to spend a whole weekend with Big Guy gets me through the weeks.

 

 

6 Years of Dating

I believe in celebrating the small things.

The ones that everyone else doesn’t celebrate.

our first pic on FB as a “couple”

Most people know they’re supposed to celebrate February 14.

Not everyone celebrates March 1.

For us, that’s our date-iversary.

And I never want to stop dating this guy.

Ever.

So this weekend, we’re going on a fancy date.

I’m going to drink champagne and thank the good Lord that for whatever reason we started dating 6 years ago.

Because we’ve got something special.

And I like it.

Weekend via Instagram {plus Meyer Lemon Pizza}

Can you believe it’s the last week of February?  I’m ready for Spring.  Especially after such a gorgeous weekend (what a tease).  Bring on the warmer weather and sunshine.

Come March, our weekends are slammed pack with plans.  So this past weekend we enjoyed a slow-paced Saturday and Sunday.

On Friday night we headed up to the country club for dinner.  I love eating there on Friday and Saturday nights because there are Chef’s Specials.  This weekends specials included monkfish.  A super ugly bottom feeder.  Despite being an ugly fish, it tastes delicious.  Especially when wrapped in bacon.  Big Guy even snagged a bite (or three) from my plate.  The monkfish was served over collards along with roasted tomatoes.  The collards were awesome.  Chef Ryan – here’s your shout out…Thanks for such a fantastic dinner.

We started Saturday being super productive.  But once the afternoon hour struck, it was time for a cocktail.  I saw some Meyer Lemons at the store earlier in the week and I couldn’t resist grabbing a handful.  I used the Meyer Lemons to make a sparkling cocktail that includes rosemary simple syrup, vodka, Meyer lemon juice and sparkling wine.  So refreshing!

Saturday evening we had an arrangement of cheeses as an appetizer.  We picked up this bottle of cava when we were at the Raleigh Wine Shop and it was suggested to enjoy with a cheese plate.  It’s also cheap enough you won’t regret using it for sangria, or in my case, the Meyer Lemon cocktail.  The cheeses included a balsamic parmesan, a buttermilk blue, champagne cheddar and a goats milk cheese.  I love a cheese plate.

And on Sunday evening it was all about the pizza.  Meyer Lemon Pizza to be exact.  I know, lemons on a pizza seems rather bizarre.  The flavor combinations were incredible.  The pizza also has sauteed spinach, prosciutto and honey goat cheese.  Every bite was amazing.  I used a stand-by gluten-free pizza recipe and instead of cooking it in the oven during the second phase of cooking, we fired up the grill.  This just might be one of our favorite crusts to date.  Chewy with crispy edges.  Just the way I like it.  And yes, you can eat the lemon peel.

Such a beautiful weekend that came to an end far to quickly.

Rewind {the weekend}

It’s Tuesday.  The weekend is far behind us.  In fact, I’m already counting down the hours until Friday, 5pm.  But this past weekend was a good weekend.

Valentine’s Day isn’t the most important day in the world to me.  In fact, I never really liked it until Big Guy came around.  But I do like a card.  Not only did I get a card but he also came home with gorgeous flowers (I’m not a rose kind of girl) and a bottle of Dom.

I drank my fancy champs with homemade spring rolls.  This dinner was so much fun to make!

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Ready to roll!  Inside the spring rolls, sauteed shrimp, avocado, cucumbers, bibb lettuce and cilantro.

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We had a lot of fun putting together the rolls.

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The best part of the rolls was the dipping sauce!  That’s where the flavor came from.

But I mean, pretty much anything would taste good dipped in a peanut butter sauce with ginger, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce and sriracha.

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We enjoyed this dinner picnic-style.  Making it even more fun and different than a typical night at home.

Saturday was a fun day from beginning to end.  Lunch in Raleigh, visiting a new-to-me wine shop, grabbing a drink with friends and we finished with a shopping trip at Whole Foods.

I had a wine dinner planned for Saturday night that was inspired by a wine club dinner I attended back in January.

The dinner started with a Four-Herb Green Goddess Salad.  The flavor of the tarragon was really prominent.

For dinner, Kona Coffee Crusted Steak served over a Cauliflower Mash.  To drink, one of my absolute favorite red wines of all time: 2011 Terra d’Oro Deaver Zinfandel

And for dessert, candied bacon, blue cheese and poached vanilla apricots with a glass of the Terra d’Oro Port.

The dinner was full of conversation and laughs and was one of the most perfect Saturday night’s at home that I could imagine.

Back to day dreaming about this weekend…

Amazing Flour-less Brownies

Valentine’s Day is really just an excuse to eat chocolate, right?

Oh, and say “I love you” a few more times than usual to your loved ones.

(p.s. – I love you, Big Guy.)

With all the wintery weather we’ve had the past few days I had to find some things to keep me busy.  Thankfully I had all the ingredients I needed to make Amazing Flour-less Brownies.

I’ve made flour-less brownies before but these are by far the best ones yet.

And the secret ingredient – black beans.  You heard me right, black beans.

These are divine.

Super fudgey (not a word but they are) and intensely delicious.

And the best part, the food processor does most of the work for you.  (I bet a high-power blender would work just as well, too.)

Full of chocolate from the cocoa powder and chocolate chips (and coffee grounds which bring out the chocolate flavor).

Insane, y’all.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.

 

Chef’s Counter at Beach Tree

The essence of “barefoot elegance,” Beach Tree restaurant has the feel of a Hawaiian beach house.

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Our dinner at the Chef’s Counter at Beach Tree is one of the top five meals I’ve had in my lifetime.  It was more than dinner – it was an experience.  I didn’t know anything about the Chef’s Counter until I arrived to Hawaii and was flipping through a magazine in the hotel room.  They had me at “start the night by sabering a champagne bottle.”

And that I did.  On the first try.

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This is a dinner I will never forget.  Not only was Chef Nick one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, but he ran the most organized kitchen I’ve ever seen.  All of his staff knew their purpose and had respect for the kitchen and the Chef.

There was no menu.  That’s right – I had no idea what we were going to eat when I made the reservation.  I knew that the restaurant’s cuisine is Californian with Italian influence.  Chef Nick got to know us and made the menu from there.  After our first glass of champagne, we all decided to take a trip of Southern Italy.  I knew I was in for a treat.

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One of the great things about Beach Tree is that they can open any and every bottle because they sell all wine (over 50 bottles) by the glass, carafe or bottle.  I guarantee we tasted 12 bottles of wine before the evening was over.

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The first dish was a house-made cheese over a parsley-walnut pesto with grilled house-made bread.  I die.  The pesto rocked my taste buds.  And grilled bread might have stolen my heart at first bite.

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This was one of my favorite bottles of white wine (other than the champagne) that we sipped.

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The wine never stopped.

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Pork belly!!!  And probably the best pork belly I’ve ever had.  It was so different than all the pork belly plates I’ve had in the past.  The heirloom tomatoes in Hawaii make me jealous!  Heirlooms year round?  The sauce was briny and delicious and I couldn’t get over the perfect texture of the pork.

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This dish worried me for Big Guy’s sake.  He does not like runny yolks.  (I adore runny yolks and there was nothing the Chef could put in front of me that would make me cringe.)  But we both ended up loving the dish.  The egg was slightly breaded and fried to perfection with a perfect runny yolk that paired perfectly with the grilled asparagus wrapped in prosciutto.

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After watching pizza after pizza being tossed, sauced and topped, I was praying to get a bite.  And I did.  Wild boar pizza.  Big Guy died and went to heaven with the first bite.  Undeniably fresh dough with the perfect crust bubbles.

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I am so becoming a red wine drinker.  But only with food.  And the Chef assured me that Italians only drink red wine while eating.  It’s not something they sit around and sip.  Red wine is beginning to make sense to me.  And I like it.

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I couldn’t keep up with all the drinking!

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I don’t eat a lot of pasta but my word…  This!  This ravioli was out of this world.  House-made, insanely delicious, incredibly rich but perfectly balanced.

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A fish dish that Big Guy enjoyed.  Or perhaps his taste buds were just drunk.  What we thought was a sweet potato puree was actually carrots.  And there were caper berries that made every bite briny and delicious.

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More wine.  The Chef is a huge fan of the Tignanello.  Big Guy loved the Le Volte and I swayed more towards the Peppoli.

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After all the wine and food I didn’t know how I was going to make room for the main dish.  But I did.  (Thankfully the dinner spans over a 4 hour period.)

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The main dish was simple while the presentation was quite the opposite.  Grilled steak and pork were topped with grilled scallions and a side of the best potatoes I’ve ever tasted.  I need to know what was sprinkled on top of the potatoes.

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After the main course, the Chef rolled walked us out to a beach side table overlooking the ocean.  It was perfect.

There we sipped on house made limoncello and then were served personalized desserts.  Mine was chocolate heaven (cake filled with chocolate alongside home made cherry ice cream) and Big Guy was served the most amazing banana split you’ve ever seen.

By far one of the most amazing dinners and experiences of my life.

I can’t thank Chef Nick and his staff enough for making our evening so enjoyable and fun.

 

 

Insta-Lately {the last 10 days}

Back to the real world!  I have so much to share about our trip to Hawaii including some fantastic dinners, amazing views and a picture-perfect wedding.  Hawaii was everything and nothing that I expected, both at the same time.  Here’s what I’ve been up to lately on Instagram…

The week we were to leave for Hawaii, a “snow storm” hit eastern NC.  Let’s just say I was more than ready to pack up my Lilly clothes and sun screen and get the heck outta here!

By the time we made it to LAX last Thursday, I was more than ready for a drink.  Vacation had only just begun.

After 20 hours of traveling, we arrived in Hawaii.  I was so tired I didn’t even have the energy to pop open the champagne.

But the long day of travel was totally worth this view on Friday morning.

Any trip to Hawaii must involve a frozen drink or two.  ‘Da Lime in da Coconut was one of my favorite drinks for pool side sippin’.  I was obsessed with the real flakes of coconut with every sip.

The Chef’s Table at the Canoe House was one of the highlights of the trip.  I promise I’ll have a whole post dedicated to this dinner.  Two words though, Mexican melons.

After a day of exploring, nothing tasted better than a Cocojito.  Basically a mojito that was made for me.

No trip to Hawaii is complete without a luau.  “The more your hips move, the better the story.”  Might I add that Big Guy went up on stage at one point.  And there’s video to prove it.

Bright and early on Sunday morning we arrived for our helicopter tour.  Words cannot even describe this experience.

Once-in-a-lifetime-views.

Seriously.  Breath-taking views.

While the boys fished, the ladies went on a Kona coffee plantation tour.  Let’s just say I know why Kona coffee is so expensive now.  One tree produces one pound of a coffee a year!

Sushi!!!!!  Everything I wanted and more.

The first time I’ve ever had my feet in the Pacific Ocean.  I’m such an East Coast gal.

The lady of the week at her rehearsal dinner.

Only my favorite animal ever.  I really wanted to bring one home.

The wedding day finally arrived!  And a beautiful wedding it was.

Another day, another adventure.  This time to the black sand beaches where sea turtles own the coast line.

And of course we had to stop here and have a drink.  The southern-most bar in the US.

Our last dinner was epic.  Such a gorgeous location.

Can every date-night include waves crashing?

Big Guy wanted his picture taken in the lava tunnel.  The amount of lava on the island was insane.

Our final stop (well, not counting Target) was the Kona Brewing Company.  Loved sampling all the local brewed beers.  And the pizza was incredible.

And here we are today.  Back to regular programming.  Coffee and a green smoothie were more than necessary to get this Monday started.

Insta-Lately.

You guys.  They are calling for 6-8 inches of snow in Eastern North Carolina this week.  Not cool.  Not cool at all.

I seriously need Monday and Wednesday to fly by – I have warm places to be come Thursday.

Last week I was a little under the weather.  That plus snow on the ground made for an unhappy Emily.  I drowned by sorrows in hot tea.  Lots of hot tea.

Random fact – I read that for every cup of tea you drink you reduce your risk of death by 9%.  And for every cup of coffee, 8%.  I’m going to live forever.

A tropical drink from our honeymoon.  There will be more of these come Friday.

 

Apparently it was the weekend of “drinks” on Instagram.  On Saturday night, I enjoyed a nice glass (or two) of a deliciously juicy Zinfandel.  My aunt and cousin were in town for the weekend visiting and I put her in charge of matching a wine with dinner.  I was serious about learning to appreciate red wine.

More on this tomorrow.  Just know it was amazing.

And finally, the end of duck hunting has arrived.  So I celebrated with a mimosa with lunch at Mandolin.  

Mandolin is Southern at its roots, but draws influences from around the world.  The food is fresh and local, the music is American, and the restaurant is home to a family with a passion for serving world class food, wine, and spirits in a soulful, comforting atmosphere.

Mandolin uses the highest quality local ingredients to create seasonal menus that represent a fresh take on Southern food. We source our meats, poultry, seafood, produce, and specialty products from a bounty of North Carolina farmers, ranchers, and artisans whenever possible.  We keep our cooking and our ambiance close to home.  At Mandolin, seasonality, sustainability, and buying local are culinary and business philosophies based on our core values of preparing the best food, using the best ingredients, supporting our local economy, and conserving our natural resources.

At lunch, I ordered the Mandolin Skillet.   However, the waitress made a mistake and brought me the omelet.

Mandolin Omelet Du Jour

Ask your Server for Today’s Selection, Served with Home Fries     10

The omelet was stuffed with kale, duck confit and mushrooms.

And Big Guy enjoyed the chicken and mac ‘n cheese.

Braised Ashley Farm Chicken Leg

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The mac n’ cheese was the best part of the meal.  Cheesy and salty.  Perfection.

What were your beverages of choice this weekend?  Tea?  Red wine?  Mimosas?

Roasted Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Pumpkinseeds {plus a kale caesar salad}

I’ve been a subscriber of Cooking Light magazine since 2009.  That’s a lot of magazines.  And a lot of recipes.  When an issue arrives in my mailbox I cannot wait to devour each and every page.  I flip and flip through the pages and have big dreams of preparing all the meals that tempt me.  But then another issue arrives.  And the recipes never stop piling up.  And honestly, I’m so type-A that it stresses me out.  Which is absurd.  So instead of letting it stress me out, I’m trying to actually prepare the recipes soon after flipping through the magazine.  (Don’t worry, I rip out all recipes that I think I would enjoy and they are securely resting in binders in my pantry.)

So far, so good for 2014.  I’ve received one issue and I’ve cooked multiple recipes, including the casserole from yesterdays post.

Earlier this week, we enjoyed roasted acorn squash with cranberries and pumpkinseeds along with a side kale Caesar salad.  

I was extremely disappointed that I couldn’t find delicata squash at our local grocery store.  And I even went to the big city (Raleigh) and I had no luck at The Fresh Market.  So I improvised with acorn squash.  Besides the squash, I followed the recipe exactly, adjusting the cook time.  I cooked the acorn squash in a 400 degree oven in a glass baking dish that had about 1/2-inch water in the bottom.  The acorn squash will take 45-60 minutes to cook.

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I adored the acorn squash but then again I adore most squash.  And the addition of thyme – brilliant.  Re-hydrating the dried cranberries added so much flavor.

On the side, one of Big Guy’s absolute favorites, a Caesar salad.  Except this salad used kale (superfood!) instead of romaine.  The homemade-Caesar dressing was simply amazing.  Love homemade dressings (my 2014 obsession).

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The salad was simply beautiful.  I used baby kale which has a better flavor raw than regular kale, in my opinion.

Do you read Cooking Light?  Is there a recipe you’re dying to try from the latest issue?