Baked Brie with Jezebel Blueberries

There are few things in life more perfect than a Friday or Saturday evening spent on the back deck with a drink in hand.

Painted in Waterlogue

It’s one of my happy places.

Typically it’s more of an “appy” hour for us, with a delicious bite or two to accompany our conversation and drinks.

This past Saturday night I was craving cheese.  But I didn’t want to be boring with a cheese plate.

And we had some blueberries in the fridge that needed to be used.

And Big Guy was determined to use a jalapeno fresh from the garden.

Taking a lead from a recipe I saw in Southern Living, I came up with a baked brie and blueberry appetizer.

brie

In a small bowl, I tossed 1/2 to 1 cup (a huge handful) of blueberries with 2 tablespoons pepper jelly, a good squeeze of spicy mustard, 1/2 of a jalapeno (minced), salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and cut the top rind off the brie round (I used an 8 ounce round, preferably one that comes in the wooden box).  Place the cheese back in the box and set on a baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes.  Add the blueberry mixture to the top of the brie and bake for 5 more minutes or until the cheese is melting.

This appetizer is perfection!  Salty, sweet, a little spicy, cheesy and the blueberries pop in your mouth.

blueberry brie

Paired perfectly with Mumm Rose Champagne.

And a side of conversation.

Zucchini Lasagna

I really wish I had invited company over for dinner last night.  It was that good.

The zucchini is growing like crazy and we’ve picked four since Friday.  They were destined to be used in zucchini lasagna.

The recipe requires some time but the end result is better than I ever imagined.  Big Guy claimed it was the best lasagna he’s ever had.

lasagna 2

First I started working on the sauce.  Lean ground beef is cooked and then simmers with crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

While the sauce simmers, the zucchini are sliced into long strips – like lasagna noodles.  I used a mandolin but you could totally use a sharp knife.  The zucchini slices are salted and allowed to sweat for about 10 minutes to release the extra water.  This prevents soppy lasagna.  No wants soppy lasagna.

Big Guy was in charge of grilling the zucchini slices until tender.

Ricotta is a key ingredient in lasagna.  The ricotta is mixed with an egg, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Once all those parts are prepped, it’s time to start layering.

Start with a layer of sauce at the bottom of the baking dish.  Then goes a layer of zucchini followed by sauce and then the ricotta mixture and finally a hefty sprinkling of mozzarella.

Then keep on layering until all the ingredients are used up – ending with a layer of mozzarella on top.

The lasagna bakes for about 45 minutes, covered and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  I broiled the top for about 3 minutes to get it nice and bubbly.

lasagna

Y’all – this is comfort food.  And I honestly couldn’t tell I was eating a huge plate of veggies.

The zucchini becomes so tender but has just enough bite that makes it better than noodles.

Seriously delicious.

Cheesy.

Comforting.

Rich.

Meaty.

Salty.

Tender.

Saucy.

And since the zucchini is growing like crazy, I’ll have enough to make another lasagna.

But I’m not making it unless I have guests.

Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Zucchini

Last night was another “single girl” dinner.  Thankfully I enjoy Big Guy being gone here and there so that I can cook salmon at home.  Since he’s an anti-salmon man, it’s my go-to when I want a delicious dinner for one.  (I buy the Simply Balanced brand of frozen salmon at Target.  It’s delicious, wild-caught and thaws out in about 30 minutes.)

Last night I turned to cookinglight.com to find a recipe using salmon and ingredients I had on hand.  I had a handful of cherry tomatoes that were begging to be used and I had just picked up some zucchini at the Farmers Market yesterday morning.

Salmon with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes didn’t require many other ingredients and it also didn’t require too much prep work.

In a small bowl I tossed the cherry tomatoes with a teaspoon of basil-infused olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and dried oregano (it was pouring outside and I was not about to get soaking wet for a few herbs).

On a small sheet pan, I roasted the tomatoes at 400 degrees for 15 minutes along with the zucchini that I had sliced and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Once the oven timer went off, I added the salmon to the same sheet pan (minimal clean-up is awesome!) along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a splash of my favorite fig balsamic vinegar and I roasted for 10 minutes more.

So simple, so healthy and so delicious.

The tomatoes were bursting (literally) with flavor and the zucchini were perfectly cooked.  The salmon was tender and flaky with so much flavor from the tomato juice, garlic and oregano.

Do you have a meal that you adore that your significant other won’t touch?

 

Boiler Room {oysters, burgers, beer, hallelujah}

If you live in Eastern NC, I’m sure you’ve heard of Vivian Howard.  And if you haven’t, then you must live under a rock.

Vivian Howard became a household name thanks to her restaurant “Chef and the Farmer” located in Kinston, NC.  But her real fame came after a t.v. show aired on PBS titled “A Chef’s Life.”    Not only has Vivian been a James Beard Semi-finalist but she was also featured in the most current issue of “Southern Living.”

Yesterday, on the way home from a wedding, Big Guy and I finally got the chance to check out Vivian’s latest venture, Boiler Room.

boiler

We arrived right at 12pm to guarantee we would get a table.  Boiler Room does not take reservations (though Chef and the Farmer does) and is first come, first serve.

Once seated, we couldn’t help but fall in love with the decor and the vibe of Boiler Room.  It’s a small restaurant but the food is anything but small in flavor.

To start, we both ordered one of their seasonal cocktails.  I ordered the Putnam Punch which included gin and fresh strawberries.  It was delicious.

punch

After our drinks arrived, we ordered an appetizer of Southern Poutine.  Crisp, fresh-cut french fries were doused in a sauce with pulled pork along with cheese curds for an over-the-top french fry appetizer.

fries

There isn’t one thing healthy about the fries but they were worth every calorie.  On the side, a dipping sauce made with vinegar and BBQ sauce.

For lunch, I was torn between the #1 and the #2.  And then I pulled a fast one and ordered the #5.

Butterbean Burger, Caramelized Onion Mayo, Smoked Gouda, Tobacco Onions

If you’re scared of a “vegetarian” burger – this will change your mind.  The flavors were nothing like what I expected but everything that a burger should be.

One of the best parts was the fresh made, buttered bun that was perfectly soft on the inside but sturdy enough to stand up to any burger.

burger

I ate every.single.bite.

If you’re in the area, make plans to visit now.  I know I’m planning on a cold-weather trip so that I can enjoy oysters and pimiento cheese with crackers.

A fresh perspective on an oyster and burger bar.

Vivian Howard has done it again.

Bida Manda {Triangle Restaurant Week}

Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence that includes restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other surrounding areas.  For me, Restaurant Week is an opportunity to try a new-to-me restaurant.  Restaurant Week happens two times a year and I try to make it if all possible.  (If you recall, I tried out Battistella’s in January as a part of Restaurant Week.)

Before I get to the review, let me start with this:  Make a reservation now at Bida Manda.  It’s been on my list of places to try but for some reason we never made a point to dine at Bida Manda.  And we’ve been missing out.

Bida Manda is a Laotian restaurant and the term “Bida Manda” is a term for “mother” and “father.”  The food is a flavorful marriage of Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese cooking traditions with French sensitivity.

The restaurant space is beautiful.  The wood that you find on the walls was salvages from old barns and church walls.

First of all, the service was impeccable.  Our waiter was fantastic despite having a high-volume of customers and I would go back for the service alone.

Secondly, the drinks were seasonal and delicious.

I ordered the Jamaican 75.  It’s on their new bar menu which isn’t posted online yet but it was a mix of rum, hibiscus simple syrup, citrus and sparkling wine.

Perfectly sweet without being overwhelming.

While the regular menu was available for us to order from, we were there for Restaurant Week so we ordered off the 3-course menu.  

The waiter highly recommended the sausage appetizer and the lettuce wraps.  While Big Guy’s sausage was delicious, the lettuce wraps stole the show.

Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps with herbs, peanuts and lime

wraps

Taste buds were blown away.  This was hands-down the favorite plate of the night.  The description gives this appetizer no justice what-so-ever.  I happily shared with Big Guy because this portion is huge.  Perfect for sharing with the whole table.  Though you might be tempted to order another plate of them.  The next time we return, we will no doubt order this dish.

The waiter also gave us recommendations for the entree selection.  He did not hesitate to recommend the Crisp Pork Belly Soup and the Green Papaya Salad.

Big Guy ordered the soup.  But soup isn’t a fair word for this dish.

Kaffir lime leaf coconut curry broth, julienned fresh vegetables, peanuts, local herbs, rice noodles, and house-made crispy pork belly 

Savory and succulent, this dish was a pleasure to taste.

As for me, I went with the salad.  But it’s not really a salad.  First of all, there’s no lettuce.  Secondly, the papaya is cut into noodle-like strips and served warm and tossed with a delicious sauce.  And finally, there’s really no green on the plate – expect for the lime and the dill.

Julienned green papaya, tomato, house-made tamarind and lime sauce, peanuts

crab

 

For the protein, I ordered the Crispy NC Soft Shell Crab.

I actually don’t typically like crabs because they are so.much.work to get a bite of meat.  But with soft shell crabs you can eat every.single.bite.  And since it’s seasonal and not often on the menu, I was glad that I went that route.

And then dessert was served.

The dessert is where I tasted the French inspiration of the Lao cuisine.

French Macaroons with a shot of Chocolate milk.  The macaroon was a lemon-lime flavor with a blueberry cream filling.

It reminded me of the most amazing lemon bar ever.

macaroon

And I couldn’t tell you the last time I had chocolate milk.

The perfect ending to the most amazing dinner.

I cannot wait to go back!

And after dinner, we stumbled upon a sandcastle.  In the middle of downtown.

And this is why I love date nights with Big Guy.

 

Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts

My Dad is one of the most wonderful men in the whole wide world.  And while Father’s Day is a couple of weeks away, I couldn’t help but think of him as we ate this dinner.

You see, as wonderful as my Dad is, he rather random.  And sometimes he has a hard time remembering how to pronounce certain foods and drinks.

For example:  What do you call one of my favorite drinks that involves Champagne and orange juice?

Most people would say, “Mimosa.”

But not my Dad.

He called that a “Hermosa.”

Sometimes I laugh hysterically, unable to control the noise.  And other times I just shake my head.

Because let’s be honest, I have had more than one “hermosa” in my life.  And to be sure I’ve said this word a multitude of times around him.  Even if only on Christmas morning.

Another example:  What’s the word for little pasta-like pillows made of potatoes?

This is a harder one, I’ll give him that.

“Gnocchi.”

The best way I can describe this pronunciation is “no-key.”  Obviously I’m not an English major or teacher.

But he pronounces it differently every single time.  I can’t even type what it sounds like when he says the word.

But it’s hilarious.

And it’s just one of the billions of reasons why I love my Dad oh-so-much.

And it’s why I thought of him more than once last night while fixing and enjoying Browned Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts.  

Despite have a name that’s not the easiest to pronounce, the dish comes together in no time at all.  Gnocchi only need to cook a couple of minutes in boiling water.  And I used pre-packaged gluten-free gnocchi from Harris Teeter.  I found these little gems near the hummus.

gnocchi 002

 

This particular brand exceeded my expectations and made dinner such a cinch.

While bringing the water to a boil, the butter begins to melt and brown in another skillet.  The pine nuts and garlic are sauteed in the butter before adding the cooked gnocchi and spinach.

A simple sprinkle of salty cheese (a 3-cheese blend in my case)  finishes the dish in less than 15 minutes.

gnocchi 003

This brand also makes a plain potato gnocchi but I loved the sweet potato flavor.  I’m pretty sure there was some nutmeg or cinnamon in the gnocchi that paired perfectly with the browned butter and spinach.

And even though this was our main course (and only course), it would make a perfect small plate if you were serving a fancy meal.  Just make the portions smaller.

Food is so much more than food in my life.

And this particular food was one that brought a smile to my face as I thought of how my Dad pronounces “gnocchi.”

Smoked Chicken with Fresh Herb Marinade {caprese zucchini on the side}

Like I mentioned last week, I’m drooling over the latest Southern Living Magazine.  Knowing how much Big Guy loves to cook low and slow on Sundays, I suggested the Smoked Chicken with Fresh Herb Marinade.  Not only could he do something he enjoyed but I would be able to use a few fresh herbs from the garden and feast on deliciousness.

The chicken marinates for at least 8 hours (we marinated ours for about 24 hours) in the most amazing mix of ingredients with olive oil and peanut oil.

fresh parsley
fresh basil
fresh oregano
lemon juice
Dijon mustard
brown sugar
Worcestershire
garlic
salt and pepper

The chicken then smokes for about 2 hours.  Big Guy spooned the juices over the chicken every 30 minutes or so to ensure that we didn’t end up with a dry bird.

grill 003

 

The chicken smelled amazing the moment it hit the grill so I knew we were going to be in for a treat.

grill 004

After the chicken was finished cooking, Big Guy cranked up the heat so that I could grill zucchini (fresh from the Farmers Market) slices for our side dish.

The grilled zucchini slices (which were simply tossed in olive oil and pepper pre-grilling) were being transformed into a Caprese-style side dish.

Once grilled, the zucchini was topped with sliced grape tomatoes and mozzarella balls along with basil confetti and a sprinkle of sea salt.  So refreshing and light.

grill 005

This dinner was perfection.  The chicken was cooked perfectly – crispy skin and tender meat.

grill 006

Quite possibly one of my favorite Sunday night dinners.

 

Weekend Review {supper club, Saturday and a perfect Sunday}

Good morning, friends!  Surprisingly I am finding myself feel very refreshed and ready to tackle the week ahead on this Monday morning.  I have a busy week but there’s a few fun things thrown in that I have to look forward to. Let’s get right to the weekend review and everything that was beautiful this past weekend.

Friday night we headed to the Club for Supper Club.  Our supper club group gets together four times a year for dinner and it’s always a good time.

The dinner was delicious but the dessert was by far my favorite.  It was a sour cream cake with the most delicious frosting ever.

On Saturday I decided not to set an alarm and wanted to truly savor the day.  No rushing around, no plans.  Just a day of relaxation and fun.

Of course we were still up and at ‘em.  We headed to the Farmers Market and browsed all the fresh and delicious produce.  I ended up bringing home (not pictured) some lettuce, potatoes, zucchini, strawberries, green onions and farm fresh eggs.  I adore the Farmers Market and plan to go every Saturday we’re in town, well, unless our garden is out of control with produce.

After running a few more errands, I headed to the pool.  Just me, a new book and four life guards.  I was the only one there for a good hour.  Pure bliss.

Saturday evening we had a double date with friends at our house.  It was an absolute perfect evening.

First of all, I’m obsessed with this tray that I snagged from Target.  Isn’t it adorable?  Like I promised, I experimented with gin on Saturday and made Strawberry Basil Gin and Tonics Sodas.  So refreshing!  The strawberries from the Farmers Market made the strawberry puree extra delicious.  I may just be a fan of gin after all.

Dinner was delicious but the company was even more amazing.  We snacked on an appetizer for Goat Pimiento Cheese while chatting away.  The pimiento cheese was an grown-up twist to the Southern favorite.  For dinner, Coffee-Crusted Strip Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce.  On the side, Grilled Endive and Roasted Potatoes (not pictured).  For the steak seasoning, I used a coffee rub that we had made a couple of months ago when we had some Kona coffee that was begging to be used in a rub.  The chimichurri sauce was out of this world.  I love having fresh herbs right out the back door.

S’mores!  As the sun went down, it got a little cool outside but it was perfect for a fire pit.  I haven’t had s’mores in forever and they were a huge hit.  There’s just something about s’mores that makes you feel like a big kid.  Along with the graham crackers, I made some cookies to use for the sweet sandwich - Flourless Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies.  I really didn’t want the evening to end.

On Sunday, we took it slow but eventually headed out to grab a light lunch at Milton and Miles.  We don’t have many lunch places around town so it’s nice to have this little sandwich and salad place.  This is one of the new additions to the menu for Spring:  The Spring Salad.  Loaded with fruit, jicama, candied pecans, feta and green onions.  So refreshing and light.

Sunday afternoon Big Guy smoked some chicken and we just enjoyed the sunshine.

More details on Sunday dinner tomorrow.

But I can’t not mention dessert.

Homemade Strawberry-Pretzel Ice Cream.  Seriously.

Cream cheese was a new-to-me homemade ice cream ingredient but the end result was perfection.  The pretzels added saltiness that was much appreciated while the hint of basil really made me feel fancy.  Make this ice cream now – strawberries are on their last weeks of being in season but they made this ice cream over the top.

I savored every last bite of this past weekend.  Literally.

 

Grilled Sausages with Asparagus

I am one of those kinds of people where I can’t come home from a weekend away and leave my bags half unpacked on the floor until the next day.  It stresses me out.

It also stresses me out to get home at 8pm the night before I have to be up and at ‘em the next day for work.

I like to get home in the early afternoon hours and have time to prepare myself for the week ahead.

And let’s be honest, I want to be in bed before 8pm.

Monday we leisurely drove home from the beach and arrived back to our humble abode around 4pm.

Just enough time to unpack, unwind and enjoy an evening at home.

But I wanted a simple dinner.

And Grilled Sausages with Asparagus couldn’t be any more simple.

 

 

Five ingredients.  EVOO doesn’t count – and if you don’t have EVOO in your house, I’m shaking my head at you.

Sausages
Pesto
Lemons
Asparagus
Walnuts

And it takes hardly any prep work at all.

Toss the asparagus with olive oil.

Mix together the pesto and lemon juice.

Fire up the grill.

How simple is that?

Perfect for any night of the week.

Bonus – minimal clean-up needed.

Weekend Review {unofficial start of summer}

Happy Monday Tuesday!  After a long weekend, I’m ready to tackle the week.  But first, here’s a look at what I was up to all weekend.

Last Thursday evening we went on an impromptu double-date with our friends Marlo and Garrett to celebrate Garrett’s birthday.  On The Square is one of our favorite spots and it didn’t disappoint.

 I sipped on a Hold the Phone cocktail which was a combination of Cardamaro, Fresh Mint, Lemon, Canton Ginger Liqueur, and Bubbly.

And for dinner, Pan Seared NC Mahi-Mahi with Almond Crust, Strawberry and Asparagus.

After a couple of hours of work on Friday, we headed to Ocean Isle Beach for a long weekend.

On the way down, we stopped in Wilmington for a late lunch at Bento Box.  

The salmon was so fresh!

Once settled, we poured ourselves a drink and relaxed while we waited on the rest of the gang to arrive.

We were up bright and early on Saturday morning and went on a walk.  The walk included a coffee break in the middle.

There’s a new coffee shop on the island and I have been looking forward to trying it since Easter.

Drift is in a perfect location on the island and I see myself being a regular when I’m on the island.

All I wanted to do on Saturday and Sunday was relax.  And that’s just what I did.

I even had my own pool boy.

This little girl loves the pool and the beach.  Building sand castles is her favorite.  Along with turtles.

Don’t be fooled – she only laid in this position for a picture.  She is always on the go.

Saturday night was low-key.  I fixed dinner for the family along with my Momma.

Sunday was filled with the same as Saturday.

But on Sunday night we grilled out over at my PawPaw and MawMaw’s house.  Hamburgers and hotdogs are a must.

And we obviously had to take advantage of the scenery.

Unofficially the start of summer.

And this little girl made the weekend extra sweet.  So full of life.  I can still here her saying “I love you SO much, Emmy.”

And finally – Happy Birthday to my little brother, Taylor!  I am so glad we got to spend some time together this past weekend.  Let’s promise not too let too much time go by before I see you again, okay?