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?

Friday Favorites.

Is it just me, or does the pumpkin “craze” start earlier and earlier every year?  Sure, I would love a little cooler weather but let’s save the lattes and sweaters until October.  With that being said, you won’t find any pumpkin-anything on this edition of Friday Favorites because it still feels like summer.  Oh, and just so you know, I’m having a really hard time parting with my white pants.  Part of me is totally old school and says I can’t wear them until next Easter weekend but another part of me says to forget the rules.  I guess if that’s the biggest dilemma I have this week I’m doing just fine.

 

Favorite Refresh:  Coconut Water Iced Coffee.  Like I said, it still feels like summer and this drink sounds so refreshing without any funky ingredients.  The perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

 

Favorite Wake-Up:  Oatmeal Cookie Granola.  I am a breakfast girl.  As in, I have to eat breakfast.  It’s not an option.  I could totally get on board with a bowl of Greek yogurt topped with Oatmeal Cookie Granola and banana slices.  Good morning!

Favorite Fashion:  While I’m not ready for full-blown cold weather, I am ready to wear my jeans to football games.  And I would totally rock this look while tailgating.  The only thing missing:  a mimosa.

 

Favorite Drool:  how sweet eats’ cookbook hit bookshelves around the country this week.  I had to have a copy of my own.  I cannot wait to make every.single.recipe.  And gain five pounds in the process.

 

Favorite Crunch:  Coconut Almonds.  With only three ingredients, this may be my newest snack time obsession.

 

Favorite Style:  While we have no plans to move in the near future, I often find myself daydreaming of how I’ll decorate our next living room.  I am craving a little more light and bright.

Favorite Slurp:  BBQ Chicken Chili.  While it’s no where near time for chili and soup, how comforting does this bowl look?  Maybe in a month or two it’ll be cool enjoy to enjoy this with an ice cold cider.

 

Favorite Crave:   Honey Hoisin Baby Back Ribs.  As soon as football season hits, I start plotting when we’ll devour a rack of ribs.  I seriously crave these messy, carnivorous bites every fall.  And it’s one craving Big Guy can get on board with.

Favorite Indulge:  Peanut Butter Cake Bars.  There’s nothing quite like the combination of chocolate and peanut butter.  These bars are the kind of things that make you speechless.

 

Favorite Sip:  French 75.  I had my first French 75 last Sunday evening and now I’m obsessed.  As in, I’m counting down the days until we have a date night so I can make my own at home.  It’s probably my new favorite drink and I didn’t even drink gin until this summer.

 

Cheers!  It’s Friday.

Loooong Weekend

Do you remember the Berenstain Bears?  The book The Berenstain Bears and Too Much Birthday totally sums up how I feel at this moment.  And tonight I have one more celebration with the best friends in the world.  It’s the birthday that never ends.

But it was such a lovely weekend.  And here’s a peak at how I celebrated:

On Thursday night, my friend, Leann, took me out to dinner at Mandolin in Raleigh.  I dined at Mandolin in January but we had brunch that time around.  This time we started with pink bubbles and a cheese plate and ended with a trio of sorbet.  The cheese plate was incredible.  The service was fantastic and I love the feel of the restaurant.  It’s a place I would return to again for dinner.

On Friday morning, a sweet co-worker of mine took me out for coffee.  Pour over for the the win.  With just a touch of cream, this was the perfect start to the weekend.

On Friday night, Big Guy was in charge of dinner.  We started with Prosecco and bacon wrapped stuffed goat cheese dates.  So good.

And for dinner, Italian Sausage Stuffed Bell Peppers and a bold Malbec.  p.s. How perfect is the cutting board that Leann gave on me Thursday?

On Saturday morning, we were up and at ‘em.  I headed to the gym for a workout and then it was back home for a morning full of tailgate prep.

Saturday evening was the opening ball game for the Pirates so of course I had to toast to a great season.

There’s a new Pirate in the family.  My sister-in-law just started at ECU and it was so good to see her.  I can’t wait to tailgate with her this season.  p.s. It was a hot game.

Post-Pirate win, we hit the road and headed for Durham.  I wanted to spend my birthday eating and drinking and that’s just want Big Guy planned.

On Sunday morning, I started my “golden birthday” with pour over coffee and avocado toast from Scratch.  It was quite the happening place.

We walked around Downtown a little bit before getting showered for the day.

For lunch, we decided to try Rue Cler, a French restaurant in Downtown Durham.  We started with an order for beignets and a round of drinks.  The beignets were so delicious.  But honestly, how can fried dough not be delicious?  For my main meal, I went with the Chicken Paillard: Seared Chicken Breast with Brie and Crispy Onions over Salade Verte.  I know, boring.  But I knew there was more to come.

Lunch was followed by more walking (which is a very good thing) and chatting and just seeing the city on foot.  We finally made it back to the hotel around 4:30pm and it was time to get ready for a night out.

We started the night at Alley Twenty Six, one of my favorite bars.

The bartender made me a French 75 and I just might have a new favorite cocktail.  Gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and bubbles.

Post-cocktails, it was time for dinner.  We had reservations at Revolution where we did the 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings.  I kept my phone in my purse the entire meal and it was wonderful to enjoy the food and wine with Big Guy.  Sometimes it’s good to disconnect from the rest of the world.

Monday had a slow start.  Thank goodness for a three-day weekend.

We ended the weekend long celebration at Mura where I tried a new roll, the “919” roll and enjoyed an old favorite, “Sin City.”  Sushi is always a good idea.

It was early to bed last night and I was back to my usual routine this morning.

But I have to end with this – Thank you to everyone, my friends, my family, my co-workers and especially my husband, for making my birthday so special.  I cannot wait to make even more memories in the coming year.

 

Weekend Review {quick trip to charlotte plus delicious eats}

Good morning, friends!  I hope your weekend was as wonderful as mine.  Here’s a quick look at what we were up to all weekend…

On Thursday, after an out-of-town training, I headed farther west to visit my parents.  It was a super quick trip but it was totally worth the extra miles.

Thursday was my grandmother’s birthday and I was so happy that I was able to join my parents to take her to dinner.  My Momma was extra thoughtful and tried to pick a place that would suit Mimi but would also please my foodie-self.  She succeeded.  Nolen Kitchen has been on my list (among many others) of places to try in Charlotte for a whole now.  Nolen Kitchen is located in a picture-perfect neighborhood and it was such a treat to visit.  To start, we shared the zucchini chips which were nothing short of amazing.  Perfectly fried but not overly oily.  And for my main dish, I went with the special:  Red Snapper with Lobster and a Gouda Alfredo Sauce served over black beans and spinach.  The sauce was decadent without being heavy and I was surprised at how perfectly it paired with the black beans.  To sip, a crisp Sauvignonn Blanc.

On Friday morning I was up bright and early to try a Pure Barre class.  I have wanted to try Pure Barre for a long, long time and I couldn’t pass up the chance.  There’s a Pure Barre studio about 10 minutes from my parents house and I am no obsessed.  Unfortunately, there’s not a barre studio anywhere close to where I live…so I’ll just have to save that class for special occasions.  It hurt so good.  I was sore until Sunday night.

Post-sweat, my Momma and I met up with my sister, brother-in-law and my cutie pie, Haines, for breakfast.  I’ve heard great things about Another Broken Egg and it was the perfect place for us to sip coffee and chow down.

Unfortunately, I had to hit the road as soon as breakfast was over.  As much as I wanted to stay and be with my family for the weekend, we had plans back at home and I was ready to see the hubs.

Friday night we had a little dinner party with two of our favorite couples.

The night started with rosé  and ended with lots of laughs.

In between, we dined on short ribs that had the most amazing sauce.  (I still need that recipe, Katie!)

Thankfully the sun was out on Saturday and I was able to finish up book #4 by the pool.

Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed cocktail hour at home with Grilled Pineapple Margaritas.  Umm…delicious.

We continued the Mexican theme but I’ll share the full menu later this week.

And I also checked one more item off the bucket list last night:  Trashy Hot Dogs!!!!

The dog was loaded down with sauteed onions (I sauteed the onions in bacon fat and added a touch of maple syrup before serving), sauteed mushrooms, crisped bacon and cheddar cheese.

I can never have a regular ole hot dog again.  These totally hit the spot and was worth the wait.  So many flavors and the bun was soft and doughy while the dog had the “snap” that I crave.

Only 5 days of work stand between me and my next weekend.

Let’s do this.

 

 

Smoked Salmon Dip plus The Masters Pimiento Cheese

This past Sunday a few friends gathered for Sunday brunch.  While I’m not usually a fan of having plans on Sunday, this particular brunch made me excited to plan another Sunday brunch.  The great part about brunch is that there really are no expectations.  Sweet and savory are perfectly acceptable and the drink menu plans itself:  mimosas and bloody’s.

And yes, our other halves were there but men don’t feel the need to take a picture every single time they hang out.

The hostest with the mostest (hey, KP!) provided the main dish which was a hearty egg and hashbrown casserole.  Delicious with a heaping spoonful of salsa on top.  The other ladies all brought a little of this and a little of that.  There was chicken croissants, mini grilled cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit and monkey bread.

I brought smoked salmon dip and The Masters Pimiento Cheese.  Both are ridiculously easy to make and I actually prepped them both on Saturday afternoon.

salmon dip

I adore salmon but Big Guy would never be interested in this appetizer.  Thankfully there were others that love salmon as much as I do.  The dip is a quick mix of cream cheese (I used the whipped version), light sour cream, lemon juice, salmon, red onion and dill.  So good!

masters pimiento cheese

Big Guy is a huge fan of the southern staple pimiento cheese.  There are quite a few varieties out there and I’ve made quite a few versions using various recipes.  The most difficult part of this recipe is shredding the cheese.  Don’t buy pre-shredded cheese.  Just don’t.  In this particular version, instead of just mayo, a mixture of cream cheese, sour cream and mayo is used for a creamy, rich spread.  Also, in addition to cheddar cheese, Parmesan cheese is added for some extra sharpness.  And of course, pimientos.  You can’t leave out the pimientos.  If you make this in advance, let it come to room temperature before serving so that it spreads easier onto the crackers.

The best part about these two dips – they aren’t just for brunch.  The pimiento cheese is perfect for any fall tailgate and the salmon dip will impress your guests at a dinner party or for “appy” hour.

 

Onion Rings with Homemade Roasted Tomato Ketchup

It’s Tuesday and we’re still talking about Saturday night’s dinner.

That, my friends, is a sign of an excellent dinner.

It all started with an overabundance of tomatoes.  Not wanting to waste tomatoes, we started brainstorming ways to use them.

Tomato sauce.  Salsa.  Ketchup.

While brainstorming ways to use tomatoes, we were also thinking of what we wanted for dinner that night.  The weather wasn’t all that great and we were craving some comforting eats.

Hmmm.

What goes well with ketchup?

Hamburgers.  Fries.  Onion rings.

Yes.  Onion rings.  And yes, they are gluten-free.

We found a recipe for Roasted Tomato Ketchup in one of Big Guy’s cook books, Pickles, Pigs and Whiskey.  

The ketchup starts by roasting your tomatoes, low and slow, at 250 degrees for about 2 hours.  The tomatoes were tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme.

The house smelled amazing.

Once cooled, the tomatoes are blended with an array of spices as well as a little brown sugar and white wine vinegar.  The ketchup was a little thick but was easily thinned out a bit with water.  We kept the ketchup on the thick side – not wanting to lose the rich flavor.

It seriously was the best ketchup I’ve ever tasted.

To go with the ketchup – because we obviously planned this meal around condiments – onion rings.

We have never deep fried anything in our house, and I have to admit I felt like a seasoned cook as we breaded and fried the onion rings.

As soon as the brown, crispy onion rings were removed from the hot oil, we sprinkled them with salt, pepper and garlic powder.

So good!

I was really impressed with the onion rings and the flavor of the ketchup.

And if that wasn’t decadent enough, they were served next to a Bacon Burger with a Basil-Yogurt Sauce.  

I know.

We were out of control.

And so was the flavor of the food.

 

Fire in the Triangle {Battle Cheerwine}

Two chefs.

One ingredient.

Six courses.

But only one can move on in Competition Dining.

On Monday night Big Guy and I attended Fire in the Triangle for the semi-final battle between Flights and City Kitchen.

The Chefs found out the secret ingredient at noon and had the afternoon to plan and execute their three dishes.

Battle Cheerwine.

Each dish is judged by the pros and the Joe’s (that’d be us) on overall taste, use of the secret ingredient and presentation.

While eating and judging, we had no idea who made what dish.  It wasn’t until the very end when the scores were announced that we found out what Chef was responsible for what dish.

While this is my personal recap, here’s the official recap.

course 1

COURSE 1
Shrimp and Grits, 63°C NC Egg, Herbed Yellow Old Mill of Guilford Grits, Andouille Sausage, Cheerwine Crispy Bacon, Cheerwine BBQ Sauce
Chef Younes Sabouh of City Kitchen

Such a fun play on shrimp and grits.  But I will say that I think shrimp and grits is kind of playing it safe since that is a staple in the south.  However, you could really taste the Cheerwine in the bacon.  I didn’t get much of the Cheerwine flavor in the BBQ sauce.  And that egg.  It was cooked to perfection.  While it probably made other squeamish, I adored the runny yolk with the grits.

I gave this dish a 27 out of 40.

Voter Score: 24.638
Pro Score: 24.333
Weighted Score: 24.546 

course 2

COURSE 2
Cheerwine Sous Vide Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast, Cinnamon-Braised Manchester Farms Quail & Almonds, Crispy Kataifi, Parsnip Mousse, Cheerwine Bing Cherry Marmalade
Chef Younes Sabouh of City Kitchen

One of my favorite dishes of the night.  The duck was tender and flavorful without being “gamey.”  The pairing of the cherries with the duck was genius.  I also really enjoyed the texture that the crispy kataifi (a pastry-like dough) brought to the dish.

I gave this dish a 32 out of 40.

Voter Score: 29.229
Pro Score: 22.333
Weighted Score: 27.160 

course 3

COURSE 3
Soy Cheerwine Roasted Heritage Farms Cheshire Pork Loin, Cheerwine Gingered Sweet Potato Purée, Jicama Pawpaw Salad, Sweet Chili Cheerwine BBQ Sauce
Chef Dean Thompson of Flights

Pork perfection.  Thinly sliced with just the right proportion of fat with each bite.  The peanuts were a perfect topping to this dish, adding crunch and flavor.  The gingered sweet potatoes were a little too baby food-like but I loved the freshness and texture from the jicama salad.

I gave this dish a 16 out of 40.  (yes, I’m a tough judge.)

Voter Score: 28.561
Pro Score: 29.333
Weighted Score: 28.792 

course 4

COURSE 4

Confit of Elk with Cheerwine Demi, Truffled Cauliflower, Goat Cheese, Chive, & Mushrooms with Cheerwine Bacon Jam
Chef Dean Thompson of Flights

Such an interesting dish!  I was so excited to see goat cheese on the plate as I was hoping to have a taste of local cheese.  While elk isn’t something I normally eat (and I doubt you eat it a lot either) it was delicious.  Full of flavor and perfectly cooked.  I really enjoyed the truffled cauliflower that was the bed for the confit of elk.  Another favorite of the night, though I gave it a lower score because I wasn’t able to detect much Cheerwine flavor.

I gave this dish a score of 24 out of 40.

Voter Score: 28.364
Pro Score: 29.333
Weighted Score: 28.655 

course 5

COURSE 5

Almond Praline Cheerwine Ganache Chocolate Cake, Milk Chocolate Mousse, Raspberry Cheerwine Gel, Mascarpone Vanilla Cream
Chef Younes Sabouh of City Kitchen

Dessert!  After four savory dishes I was ready for a little sweetness.  The cake was dense but the perfect balance of sweet.  The crumble on the top and bottom reminded me of a Larabar.  I’m almost certain there were dates in the crust.  My favorite part of the dish – the mascarpone vanilla cream.  Silky smooth decadence.

I gave this dish a 26 out of 40.

Voter Score: 28.881
Pro Score: 26.000
Weighted Score: 28.016 

course 6

COURSE 6
Chocolate and Cheerwine Mascarpone Chess Pie, Graham Crust, Chocolate Chip Pistachio & Cheerwine Ice Cream, Funnel Cake, Dark Chocolate Ganache, Tarragon Dulce de Leche
Chef Dean Thompson of Flights

The last dish of the night.  And the sweetest dish of the night.  Almost too sweet though.  The best and most unexpected part of this dish was the chocolate chip pistachio and Cheerwine ice cream.  I need that recipe.  I honestly couldn’t taste the tarragon in the dulce de leche and I think this is what made the dish overly sweet.  The chess pie was more like a blondie but was incredibly tasty.  Out of the two desserts, this was the one that I tasted the Cheerwine in the most.

I gave this a score of 31 out of 40.

Voter Score: 31.894
Pro Score: 32.000
Weighted Score: 31.926 

And the winner of Battle Cheerwine….

Chef Dean Thompson of Flights.

The #1 cause of home fires and burn injuries is cooking…so be careful!