Baked Ricotta Dip, Salmon with Red Wine-Balsamic Sauce and Oven-Braised Fennel

If you don’t have dinner plans tonight, now you do.

And I promise you’ll thank me later.  We enjoyed this date-night dinner last Friday night and it was amazing.  I’m pretty sure we talked about how delicious the meal was the entire time we were eating.  Nothing else earned a spot at dinnertime conversation.

To start off the evening, Baked Ricotta Dip for “appy” hour.  I chose this appetizer because I had some ricotta cheese that I didn’t want to go to waste.

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Sweet but still savory.  Crunchy but still creamy.

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The drizzle on top is key.  Don’t leave that out (though I didn’t have truffle honey).  For dipping, I used Glutino’s bagel chips - the best!

The fennel takes a little while to braise, so I got started on that shortly after the appetizer.

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Oven-braised fennel with balsamic vinegar is my new favorite side dish.  I splurged and purchased some fig balsamic vinegar and it was so worth the splurge.  Between the fennel and the red wine sauce, it totally earned a permanent spot in my oil and vinegar basket.  I left out the white wine in the side dish and just used more chicken stock.  I didn’t want the red wine in the sauce for the salmon to compete with the side dish.  Thinking about this dinner makes me want more braised fennel.  And can someone tell me why I’m just now realizing how amazing fennel is cooked?

The salmon was simply cooked in a skillet in a little olive oil.  The red wine-balsamic sauce stole the show.  A perfect pairing of a main dish and a side dish.

We all know Big Guy did not eat salmon – he had a grilled steak with the same red wine-balsamic and he couldn’t stop talking about the lusciousness of the sauce.

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Like I said, you can thank me later.

Smoky Potato Pancakes

Raise your hand if you like mashed potatoes.

Raise your hand if you like loaded baked potatoes.

Raise your hand if you like bacon.

Raise your hand if you like the smell of onions and garlic cooked in bacon drippings.

If your hand isn’t up, Smoky Potato Pancakes aren’t for you.  And we probably can’t be friends.

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This meal does involve a little bit of prep work but with the help of Big Guy, we got this dinner on the table in no time.

Two slices of bacon are crisped in a skillet and reserved.  But don’t you dare think about wasting the goodness at the bottom of that skillet.  The onions and garlic and leeks are cooked in the bacon drippings before being added to the “pancake” mix.  The “pancakes” are made from shredded potatoes, eggs, salt, pepper and a little bit of cheese.  At this point I was a little afraid.  The mixture was so watery.  But I squeezed out the excess liquid before making patties and baking.  I ended up broiling the pancakes for about 3 minutes at the end of the cooking time (apparently I missed the whole “pan frying” step to the recipe).

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The pancakes are served with a dollop of Greek yogurt (or sour cream) on top and bacon confetti.  Yes, bacon confetti.

On the side, roasted asparagus (same oven temperature as the pancakes, dressed with a little EVOO, salt and pepper).

I didn’t realize until about the second pancake what these bad boys reminded me of – tender, loaded baked potatoes.  But with the crispiness of a fry on the outside.

Seriously delicious.

And for any of you that didn’t raise your hand before, what’s wrong with you?

Just kidding.

Kind of.

Cheesy Meat Loaf Minis

Now this is a Sunday dinner.  I can’t remember the last time I made meat loaf.  Seriously, I can’t. It’s been cold and messy here since Sunday and nothing sounded more warm and cozy than meat loaf.

The meat loaf is full of flavor and is in no way dry.  Throughout the mini loaves are bites of cheese.  Ooey, gooey, deliciousness.  I ended up using a goats milk cheese but cheddar would be just as delicious.  I also used gluten-free bread to make the breadcrumbs.  The flavor comes from a mix of sauteed onion and garlic, horseradish, mustard, oregano and parsley.  Using sirloin also adds a lot of flavor without a lot of added fat.

The mini loaves cook up a lot faster than one big loaf, so dinner came together pretty fast.  On the side, a simple salad with a homemade balsamic dressing.  Simply whisk together 2 tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar (totally worth the money), 2 tablespoons of EVOO, 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard and a pinch of salt.

What is your ultimate Sunday dinner? 

(Oh, and I don’t have my “real” camera at the moment – don’t worry, I’m getting it back – so you’ll have to bear with Instagram pics until then.)

 

Top of the morning to you!

Happy St. Patty’s Day!  I hope you’re all wearing your green today.  Not only am I wearing my green but I enjoyed a green smoothie this morning.  But it wasn’t my typical green smoothie.

Shamrock Protein Smoothie

In this mix:  almond milk, 1/2 a banana, frozen spinach (green!), protein powder, hemp seeds and peppermint extract.

Big Guy and I actually “celebrated” St. Patty’s Day on Thursday.  The country club hosted an Irish Whiskey Tasting along with an Irish-inspired menu on Thursday night.  While I wasn’t on board with the whiskey (champagne, please!) the food was incredible.  Funny story though – Big Guy thought Thursday was St. Patty’s Day because of the event.  Whomp, whomp.

Chef Ryan and Josh

Anyways, back to my Irish meal.  I honestly had made my mind up before I even saw the menu.  I had told myself if Shepherd’s Pie was on the menu, that’s what I was getting.  And it was on the menu.  But I wanted the Chef’s opinion, too.  And his first recommendation was the Shepherd’s Pie.  I was sold.

Shepherd’s Pie

This dish was incredible.  The BEST shepherd’s pie I have EVER eaten.  Rich and hearty.  Just what Shepherd’s Pie should be.  Big Guy enjoyed bangers and mash (only after he tried to tell me he was going to order chicken wings and I wasn’t having that).

And because I couldn’t resist – Guinness Chocolate Cake with Bailey’s Frosting.

 

How are you celebrating St. Patty’s Day?

And just so you know – I’m celebrating by eating something green at every meal today.  I know, living on the wild side.

Curried Quinoa Salad with Cucumber-Dill Raita

I was wrong about red quinoa.  After cooking with it again, I learned the secret behind this beautifully colored seed.  It’s needs a little longer cooking time.  Oh, and seasoning it with curry and garlic while it’s cooking doesn’t hurt either.

You start with a teaspoon of EVOO, garlic and curry powder being added to a hot saucepan.  Allow that to become fragrant and then add your water and quinoa.  The quinoa takes on the taste of the curry powder and garlic and it’s simply delicious.

While the quinoa cooks and cools, chop up the veggies and herbs:  celery, green onions, cilantro and dill (I used dill in place of the mint and I think it was an excellent swap).  You can also go ahead and make your cucumber-dill raita at this time.  Raita is an Indian condiment.  It’s like our ketchup.  But better.  A much fresher condiment.  The base is yogurt and diced cucumber and dill are added.  So refreshing!

Once the quinoa has cooled a bit, add in the celery, green onions, cilantro and dried cranberries (I used this in place of currants).

The quinoa is served on top of a bed of spinach with a dollop of the raita on top.  Here’s a link to the original recipe.  

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Are you a fan of curry?  What’s your favorite Indian-inspired food?

Weekend Review {rainy pizza night, Supper club plus wings and sunshine}

Let’s rewind to Friday evening…

Friday night was pizza night.  It was rainy and gross outside but a delicious Fennel, Sausage and Ricotta Pizza along with a glass of wine made the rain totally manageable.  And for some green, a Broiled Romaine Salad with Fennel Caesar Dressing.  Nothing makes me happier than pizza.

On Saturday morning, I had to rise and shine to head to Raleigh for a work event.  After 4 hours of learning about school gardens I was really ready to get my weekend started.

One of our favorite couples stopped by before we left for supper club for a drink and to catch up.  So needed.

And then it was time for the big event of the weekend.  Our third Young Adult Supper Club!  I adore going to supper club, which takes place at the country club but there are different hosts for each dinner.  The hosts this weekend did an amazing job!  The room was beautifully decorated (some light blue accents for the Carolina/Duke game) and the menu couldn’t have been more enticing.  A huge shout out to Chef Ryan – like I told him Saturday night, this may have been the best plate he’s ever served me.

There were several passed appetizers during cocktail hour but the real star of the show – the salad and main course.  Holy deliciousness.  The salad was a chilled green and white asparagus salad with deviled quail eggs.  The dressing was amazing.  And then the main course – I wanted to lick my plate clean.  A Cabernet braised short rib with fried mac ‘n cheese.  Seriously.  The short rib was cooked to absolute perfection.  I cannot get over the flavors!  And that sauce!  Ryan knows how to make a sauce, my friends.  Thank you again for such a fun night and delicious menu.

Post-dinner, we headed into the bar for more drinks, catching up and to watch the basketball game.  Let’s be honest though, I didn’t watch the basketball game.

On Sunday morning, after peeling myself out of bed, Big Guy and I headed out to grab some lunch and go to the grocery store.  A restaurant in the next town over just started serving brunch on Sundays and we thought it was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.  Quince has an outside patio and the weather was simply too beautiful not to sit outside.  The food was delicious and I’m excited to have a new place to go for a Sunday lunch that’s not quite as far as Raleigh.

And we finished the weekend with sunshine.  Wings and sunshine.  Big Guy really wanted to grill since the weather was so amazing and I couldn’t have agreed more with that decision.  After looking through my Pinterest page for inspiration, we finally decided on Spicy Asian-Style Hot Wings.  Lately we’ve been loving Asian-inspired meals.  Instead of baking them, we grilled the wings.  The sauce is a mixture of fresh squeezed orange juice, sugar (we reduced the amount to 1/4 cup), Chinese Five Spice, garlic (I doubled the amount of garlic), chili garlic sauce, and mirin.  Sweet, salty and spicy.  The perfect flavor combination.

And now it’s Monday.

Back to the grind.

A Day in the Life

4:21 am – Alarm goes off.  Roll over with a moan but tell myself that I’ve never regretted a work out.

4:40 am – Arrive at the gym.  Wait in the warm car and check Instagram.

5:00 am – Work.it.out.  My workout depends on the day.  But today I took a Pedal and Pump class.  This class is a mix of cardio and weight training using the bike and whatever else the instructor can come up with.

6:05 am – Now that I got that over with, it’s off to tackle the rest of the day.

6:25 am – Start brewing the pot-o-coffee.

6:37 am – Pour my post-shower cup of coffee.

6:40 am – 7:08 am – Primp.  Dry my hair.  Straighten my hair.  Gulp coffee.  Dress myself.  (Friday’s are easy – dress down days!)  More gulps of coffee.  Put on my face paint (make-up).

7:10 am – Time to break the fast!  This morning I had cereal.  I realized it was National Eat Cereal Day and I get a kick out of celebrating those little “holidays”.  Breakfast always includes healthy fats, protein and carbs.

7:25 am – Packing up my lunch to take to work.  Salads are a popular lunch item for me.  But lately I’ve been loving snack plates.

7:35 am – Out the door I go.

8 am – Time to check emails!  And drink my favorite cup of coffee.

8:30 am – All out of coffee.  Time to start drinking water.

8:30 am – 12:00 pm – Work flow.  My work days vary a lot.  Sometimes I’m in and out of meetings in-house all day.  Other days I’m out of the office.  Like yesterday when I got to spend the whole day at Marbles Children Museum in Raleigh for a symposium

12:00 pm – Lunch time!  I typically eat lunch at my desk (or in a meeting).  This is usually when I blog for the next day and browse my favorite blogs.  I totally unplug from work.

1 pm – 4 pm – More work.  A few laughs with coworkers.  And a snack.  Always a snack.  I found this new-to-me KIND bar flavor and I loved it!  Can’t wait to get my hands on more.

 

5 pm – Yesterday was a little different because I had an after-work date!  Since I was in Raleigh I met up with a friend (newly engaged friend) so I could get my eyes on her sparkler.  Oh, and I wanted to hear how amazingly romantic the proposal was.  We met up at Sugarland and split a cupcake along with hot tea.  So much fun catching up with her.  It was literally and figuratively a treat.

I must say, though, typically I’m really lame in the afternoons.  Most days I get home around 4:30 pm (unless I run and get a manicure or need to stop at Target) and do some chores around the house before settling in to watch a show or two.

6 pm – Dinner time.  A lot of my dinners are eaten solo because of Big Guy’s work schedule.  Last nights dinner was lame because of the above cupcake (totally worth it).  But Wednesday nights dinner was amazing.  Sriracha Salmon (simply top the salmon with sriracha and bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes) with Asian Greens on the side (bok choy sauteed in grapeseed oil with a garlic and ginger sauce).

7 pm – 9pm – Total relaxation.  Possibly some laundry.

9 pm – Lights out.  Yep, I go to bed rather early but 4:21 am comes fast.  Trust me.

 

Happy Friday, y’all!!!!

(p.s.  I’m not totally lame.  I do stay up a little later on Friday and Saturday nights.)

Balsamic and Grape Quinoa

I have a feeling this will be the last quinoa recipe for a while.

I think Big Guy is burnt out on quinoa.

But I tried to switch things up a bit and went with red quinoa.  I have never cooked or tasted red quinoa and was surprised at the difference from the regular quinoa I know and love.

The texture I think is the main difference and probably why it wasn’t Big Guy’s favorite.  It was very course and didn’t soften as much when cooked.

I used to red quinoa to make Balsamic and Grape Quinoa.  

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Along with quinoa and grapes, the salad has parsley, salt, EVOO and balsamic vinegar mixed in.

One way I used up the leftovers was by mixing the original quinoa salad with some chickpeas for added protein.

And on the side, Big Guy’s favorite mustard-braised brussels.  

I think the brussels made up for the quinoa.

At least I hope so.

 

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.

 

Bean Salad Quinoa

If you haven’t tried quinoa before, what are you waiting on?

Not only is it a whole-grain but it’s full of protein, fiber and iron.  It is so versatile and takes on the flavors of the ingredients you add to the mix.

In this salad, cooked quinoa is combined with beans, red onion and tomatoes.  The dressing is a simple mix of red wine vinegar, EVOO and salt.

Couldn’t be simpler.

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I served the quinoa salad with steamed broccoli for a super simple dinner that was on the table in 20 minutes.

Another great thing about this recipe – it’s perfect to pack up for lunch.  I added a scoop over some spinach and it was delicious.  Another day, I warmed up the quinoa and added an egg over-easy on top.

Simple, filling and healthy.

My kind of dinner when I’m in a hurry.

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