Caprese Mac ‘n Cheese

The newest issue of Cooking Light arrived last week and as soon as I flipped the page and saw Caprese Mac and Cheese I knew it was on the next weeks menu.  (p.s. – Check out that deep dish pizza on the front cover; seriously drooling over here.)

Mac ‘n Cheese has always been a favorite of mine (along with beef tips and rice, right Momma?) and I love to indulge when given the chance.

But if you make it from scratch and not from a box with 93 ingredients that you can’t pronounce you don’t have to feel guilty.

This meal is:

cheesy
comforting
a little spicy
curl-up-on-the-couch worthy
satisfying
creamy
decadent
bursting with flavor
herbaceous
perfect for a rainy evening

In order to make this meal gluten-free, I used a brown-rice pasta, gluten-free panko, and subbed in cornstarch for the flour.  Instead of adding the cornstarch to the hot oil, I simply whisked it into the milk before adding it to the hot saucepan.

I loved the panko topping.  Little bites here and there were full of crunchy cheesiness.  Those were my favorite bites.  And using two cheeses makes it a mega bowl of comfort.  Sharp Parmesan and luscious mozzarella ensure that every bite is cheesy perfection.

I also baked this in one large dish instead of individual ramekins.  Either works perfectly.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

Italian Guacamole and Jerk Shrimp Tacos

When you make a batch of Grilled Pineapple Margaritas, it’s kind of necessary to make a batch of guacamole.

margs

Margaritas and guacamole go together like peanut butter and jelly.

And while I have plenty of “classic” guacamole recipes I could make, it’s always fun to try a new twist on a classic.

guac

So in this batch of guac, we left out the cilantro and added fresh basil and parsley.  Otherwise, it’s just like the traditional guacamole you love – packed with tomatoes, red onion, salt, jalapeno and garlic.

But now I kind of want all my guacamole to have basil and parsley in the mix.

closeup

 

The sweet but smokey margarita paired perfectly with the salty chips and the savory guacamole.

I wonder what a roasted strawberry margarita would taste like…or grilled peaches…

I may have created a monster.

As for the main course, shrimp were marinated in a mix of spices including thyme, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, cayenne and salt.  I love the warmth of these spices.

The shrimp were cooked on the stovetop and then placed on a warm corn tortilla before being topped with a cantaloupe salsa.  Basically instead of your traditional tomato salsa, cantaloupe was tossed with diced red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and salt.  Sweet and spicy!

taco

And on top of the salsa, a sprinkle of salty feta.

Gotta love Mexican night!

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.

 

 

BLT Pizza {grilled romaine with creamy maple dijon dressing}

Mondays can be so depressing.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love my job but seriously, weekends are the best.  And it’s kind of sad when really fantastic weekends have to come to an end.  This weekend was one of those fantastic weekends that I didn’t want to end.

Friday night was an easy night in for us.  After a whirlwind week, I wanted nothing more than to throw off my shoes, whip up a pizza and catch up with Big Guy over a {big} glass of red wine.

To start, we had grilled romaine salads that were topped with frizzled red onion and sauteed garlic.  For grilled romaine, simple halve the head of romaine, lightly drizzle with EVOO and sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Grill until wilted and slightly charred.

more grilled

And while the grilled romaine is usually the star of the show, on Friday it was all about the maple dijon dressing.   Sweet, tangy and smooth this is one of the best dressing recipes I’ve made.  I loved that it was a Greek yogurt based dressing as opposed to mayo.  Rich and creamy.

grilled romaine

By the way, the BLT pizza was “L”-less.  But since we had the “L” on the side, I didn’t take it out of the name.  For the pizza, simply roast tomatoes with fresh oregano and pepper for about 20 minutes.  While the tomatoes roast, cook up a few slices of bacon.  The sauce for this pizza was a mayo-based sauce.  And while that might scare you, I promise it doesn’t taste like mayonnaise is on your pizza.  The sauce actually melts into the crust and just makes it incredibly delicious.  The pizza is also topped with the roasted tomatoes, bacon and finally the mozzarella.

A perfect Friday night.

 

 

Stanbury {restaurant review}

I checked another restaurant off my Restaurant “Bucket List” last night!  This restaurant first made it to my list thanks to Big Guy…and I didn’t even take him to dinner with me.  (But that’s just an excuse to go again.)  And then it got a star by it’s name on my list when it was featured in Southern Living a month or so ago.  Last night I went with two girlfriends to celebrate a birthday.  And it totally lived up to the hype.  If you want to go – make reservations up to two weeks in advance – the place is a hot spot right now.

Of course we started with a round of drinks.  I typically go for a glass for bubbles when I first arrive at a restaurant but I had heard rumors that their cocktails were amazing.  And amazing they were.

We all ordered a different drink and it was so fun to taste all the libations.

Flower of Pomona – vodka, lemon, basil, moscato d’asti, orange blossom water  

Incredibly refreshing and the orange blossom water was the unexpected flavor that really made me love the drink.  And obviously I love herbs in any drink.

Nilsson’s Cure – coconut infused rum, lime, coconut water, egg white

I love anything coconut-flavored and the birthday girl really enjoyed this cocktail.  Super light but the flavor held on to your tongue thanks to the frothy egg white.

Sandhills Smach - bourbon, peach, lemon, mint

Oh, bourbon.  I finally found a bourbon drink that didn’t make me want to run and find a bottle of water.  While I would never order this drink, I can totally see why a bourbon-lover would be a fan of this cocktail.

Stanbury is a small plates restaurant (so don’t go with friends you don’t share well with) but we all started with our own salad.

salad

Bibb Lettuce … radish, fine herbs, sherry vinaigrette

Such a fresh salad!  I loved the light and bright the flavors of the vinaigrette.  I have to be honest, I had a little salad-envy at first but ultimately, this lighter salad was all I really needed.

The other ladies ordered the Grilled Romaine … caesar dressing, nicoise olive, crouton, white anchovy and it was delicious.  The dressing was incredible and had so much flavor.

For three ladies, we ordered five small plates per the advice from our server.  (p.s. The service was fantastic!)  The kitchen was really on top of things and sent the food out in shifts – we would have been so overwhelmed had all five arrived at the same time.  With dinner, we all shared a bottle of red wine that was new to their wine list.

wine

This bottle of red is a Cabernet Sauvignon Blend from the Bonny Doon Vineyard.  I would highly recommend this wine – it was very food-friendly.

crostini

Crostini … grilled zucchini, basil, whipped ricotta, lemon, Boulted baguette

Carbs and cheese, you can’t really go wrong.  I adore zucchini but this was unlike any zucchini I had ever tasted.  And the whipped ricotta was smooth and perfectly balanced by the fresh herbs.  One of my favorite bites of the night.

green beans

Green Beans… smoked blue fish, green goddess, tomato, crispy shallot

I was hesitant about this dish.  I mean, who orders green beans at a restaurant?  It just seems boring to me.  But these were not boring.  They were unlike any green beans I had ever had.  Think green bean casserole at Thanksgiving but super fancied up.  The flavor of the smoked blue fish was intense but perfect and I loved the crispy onion bits that were hiding in every bite.

Fried Oysters … cucumber, daikon, carrot, cilantro, sriracha mayo

Talk about a perfect flavor combination.  And the textures were perfect – crunchy fried oysters with a tender, succulent inside paired with slightly wilted veggies and a smooth yet spicy sauce.

Roasted Marrow … parsley, shallot, caper, Boulted bread

You read that right, roasted bone marrow.  I’m fairly certain the other two ladies questioned my decision to order this plate but I knew I was onto something.  When you slather the bone marrow on the bread it’s basically the same as spreading on a butter – but it’s ten times better and more flavorful.  The herb salad served on the side added a pop of freshness if the marrow was a little rich for your taste buds.

sirloin

Grilled Sirloin … charred eggplant, roasted pepper, sheep feta, crispy shallot

This was probably the least memorable of all the dishes – but I’m fairly certain that is because it was plate number six and we were rather full at this point.  The beef was cooked to perfection, however, and I really enjoyed tasting the sheep feta.

 

Now I have to give you some of the downfalls – the restaurant was warm.  Like really warm.  And stuffy.  It has a garage door that opens making it open air.  I would typically love this but it was in the 90s yesterday and it just didn’t make the temperature very comfortable – I really think it was cooler outside.  And there were gnats.  But I blame that on the open-air, warm atmosphere.

 

Back to the good stuff – I would go back tomorrow despite the two negatives.  The food was fantastic, the service was perfect and the drinks were amazing.

You can make reservations up to 2 weeks in advance, and I highly recommend making reservations.  Or getting there super early.

Stanbury is truly a place for coming together and sharing.

 

Louisville Hot Brown

Sometimes in life you aren’t willing to accept knock-offs.

Windex
Lilly Pulitzer prints
Bacon
Charmin toilet paper

But sometimes the “knock-off” is just as good as the original.

Like a Louisville Hot Brown.  (if you’re from Louisville, and you are a die-hard fan of hot browns, I mean no harm.  simply stop reading this now.)

The original hot brown was first created at the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926 and was created to serve as an alternative to ham and egg late-night suppers.

A hot brown is an oven-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, that is covered in a Mornay sauce and broiled until the bread is crisped and the sauce is browned.

My version is very much the same.  Except for the Mornay sauce.

Typically a Mornay sauce is made with lots and lots of cheese.  But not this one.

This sauce is actually made with cauliflower that is steamed and then pureed with milk, butter and cheese.

The cauliflower has the consistency of a rich, decadent sauce but without all the calories.

Winner.

Especially on a week night.

hot brown2

No flavor was sacrificed for this lightened-up version.  I used pre-sliced turkey from the deli (an added short-cut from the recipe) and real bacon.

Yes, real bacon.  I don’t believe in turkey bacon.

Piled high, and topped with tomatoes and herbs for freshness, this sandwich won’t make you feel guilty.

hot brown

I can handle this knock-off.

 

 

 

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.