2014 Summer Bucket List {check-in time}

My summer will unofficially end in two weeks.  It seems like the unofficially start of summer was just yesterday.  That means that I have two weeks to complete my 2014 Summer Bucket List.

This post is a check-in.  I need to know what exactly I have to accomplish before the end of August 29th.  Because once the Pirates kick-off on August 30th, my summer is over.

Use fresh herbs from the garden as much as possible, especially in cocktails.  CHECK!

I have been so good about using all the produce in the garden this year.  I have started to give away some tomatoes but I’m also eating them by the handful.  Hopefully our fall garden does well and I won’t have to say goodbye to homegrown produce just yet.  Look at my spinach growing (below) – I can’t wait to be able to make huge salads for lunch right from my backyard.

Read five books.  The One and Only by Emily Griffin is on the list.

I am almost finished with Save the Date and I know this will be finished before the weekend is over.  I’ve also read Wild, Fault in Our Stars and Ladies’ Night.  I better purchase The One and Only pretty fast since I only have two weeks left of summer.

Take a last minute weekend trip with Big Guy.  We’re not spontaneous enough in life. CHECK!

Probably the most fun item to check off the list.  I will never forget our weekend in Savannah.  In fact, it may be in the top 5 weekends ever.  It was amazing and exactly what we needed this summer.

Experiment with gin.  Because I can put cucumbers and mint in my drink with gin. CHECK!

I’ve tried a couple of recipes with gin and I’ve also ventured out and ordered a gin cocktail a few times this summer.  It’s so refreshing!

Make homemade ice cream.  Twice. CHECK!

Plan our next BIG vacation. 

This is currently in the works.  2015 is going to be amazing when it comes to us and traveling.

Enjoy cookouts gatherings with friends. CHECK!

We’ve enjoyed everything from double-dates to brunches to a girls weekend at the beach.  We even have a fun night planned with friends for tonight.  We have some of the best friends here and we always have a blast.

Make a trashy and/or gourmet hot dog and call it dinner.

This is totally happening on Sunday and I am more excited than should be allowed.

Plan a fun weekend with family at our house. CHECK!

While we never had a huge group at our house, we did manage to have my parents in town one weekend and then my sister another weekend.  We were also blessed to spend some time with family at OIB last month.

  

So here’s my to-do list for the next two weeks:

Read.

Finalize a few vacation plans for 2015.

Eat a hot dog.

That’s the most fun (and random) to-do list I’ve ever had.

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.

 

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.

 

 

Friday Favorites.

I must have jinxed myself last Friday by sharing my plans for poolside fun on Saturday.  My plans included absolutely no sunshine and it’s starting to look like another weekend of rain is almost here.  Why, oh why, is it sunny and beautiful when I’m stuck inside the office and on the days that all I want to do is be outside it’s gross?  Riddle me that.  So I’m not going to tell you my plans for the weekend in hopes that I’ll have lots of sunshine to report on Monday.  But seriously, my weekend is going to include a lot of hanging out with Big Guy.  The guy has been gone since Sunday and I cannot wait to see his face this evening post-cocktails with a friend.  And to be honest, I don’t care if it rains because we still have fun together, no matter the weather (take that, Weather Channel – you’re not raining on my parade even if there are rain drops falling).

 

Favorite Upgrade:  Grilled Romaine Salad with Prosciutto Wrapped Shrimp.  While grilling romaine is nothing new in my kitchen, the toppings on this salad are insane.  If you think salads are boring, you’re wrong.

Favorite Twist:  Italian Guacamole.  A twist on a classic by using basil instead of cilantro.  And by the looks of our basil plant, I think I could afford to make a batch (or ten) of this guacamole.  Pass the chips!

Favorite Woah.  I have a strong desire to plan a dinner party after seeing this tablescape.  I’m obsessed with pineapples (and flamingos) which means I’m obsessed with this table decor.

Favorite Stuffed:  Cheesy Summer Stuffed Poblanos.  I want this and I want it now.  But honestly, can you go wrong with anything covered in melted cheese?

Favorite Truth:  No explanation needed.

 Favorite Sweat:  Because sometimes you just don’t want to go to the gym.

Favorite Date Night:  Balsamic Fig Glazed Pork with Blistered Tomatoes and Creamy Gorgonzola Polenta.  There’s a bottle of wine at home just waiting to be paired with this dinner.

Favorite Style:  Maybe I’m stuck in the 90s, but I’m still in love with the chambray look.

Favorite Slurp:  Peach Mule.  Ever since a taste of a peach cocktail on Wednesday night, I’m craving one of my own.

And on that note – Happy Friday!

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.