{Virtual} Coffee Chat

One of the things I loved most about my two-week break from work during the holiday season was sipping coffee and chatting with everyone and anyone in the room.  Some days it was my Momma while we were in Charlotte.  Some days it was Big Guy and his Dad when we were in Red Springs.  And other days it was just Big Guy and me (note:  he definitely was not drinking coffee).  But I loved to have someone to talk to or to simply enjoy the pleasant silence that was between us.  Now I’m back at work and I sip my coffee while catching up on emails.  It’s not near as fun as it was last week.  So let’s pretend I’m not catching up on emails and let’s chat!

 

If we were having coffee this morning… I would share with you the 10 Kitchen Habits to Adopt in 2015.  The one I really want to see more of in my kitchen is hosting dinners for others.  Whether it’s a simple dinner at home with another couple or co-hosting and really pulling out all the stops.

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If we were having coffee this morning… I would share with you that my love of sushi isn’t going anywhere.  We ate sushi three times in two weeks.  Totally a new record for us.

If we were having coffee this morning… I would talk to you about the 13 Food World Predictions for 2015.  I can get on board with the gyro trend but I’m not so sure about marijuana being on the menu.

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If we were having coffee this morning… I would probably talk about how delicious our end to 2014 ended up being.  Like I mentioned (or perhaps you saw on Instagram), we dined at SoCo and enjoyed a 6-course dinner with French wine pairings.  It was absolutely incredible with some truly unique plates of food.  It’s a night of eating I won’t soon forget.

If we were having coffee this morning… I would recommend the cookbook, America Farm to Table by Mario Batali.  This was a gift from my brother for Christmas and I am so excited to cook more from the book.  This past Saturday we made fried oysters and they were perfect.  Salty, crunchy on the outside, sweet and not at all mushy.

If we were having coffee this morning…  I would tell you that I’m buying a new camera.  No, I’m not taking up photography.  But in college I was always “that” girl that had the camera in her purse and caught hilarious moments on camera.  Unfortunately, “that” girl has broken several cameras either by getting it wet at a bar (true story) or dropping it on the dance floor at a wedding.  But I’m 31 now and I would like more than just my iPhone to capture memories.  My father-in-law (hi, butch!) researched cameras for me and I’m excited to make a little investment.

If we were having coffee this morning…  I would catch you up to speed on the “gym drama.”  (HAH!)  But seriously.  On the newest group fitness exercise schedule they removed our favorite class and teacher.  And we’re super bummed.  And we’re not being quiet about.  Hopefully they’ll add it back A to the SAP before we all freak out.

If we were having coffee this morning…  I would leave you with this thought:

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Happy Birthday, Big Guy! {32}

It’s not so bad having more than one reason to celebrate.  Happy Birthday, my love!

And while I wish I could tell you that I have something absolutely fantastic planned for his 32nd birthday celebration, I can’t.  Instead, he’s taking me out to dinner for an amazing 6-course dinner with our best friends.

But I can tell you that Big Guy deserves celebrating for more than I can name.  Big Guy is not only my husband and best friend but he’s the taster of anything and everything that I cook.  He’s the guy that lets the weather determine what he drinks (Makers if it’s cold, Tito’s if it’s warm).  He is quite handsome in a bow tie but he is most comfortable in his flip-flops, old fishing t-shirts, and Aftco shorts.  He’s the life of the party.  And the first one to say something inappropriate.  And he’ll call you out if you’re being aggressive.  He has a heart the size of Texas and Elf makes him cry at the end.  He’s the biggest kid I know and his favorite holidays are Christmas and the 4th of July.  He’s obsessed with Lilly Pulitzer and Tory Burch shoes (not for himself, obviously).  He refuses to wear cologne and he’ll only use bar soap.  He’s the hardest worker I know and he works endless hours during the week so that we can enjoy weekends together.  He’s the head of our little household but he lets me be in charge of the kitchen.  He makes sure our yard is always the best looking in the neighborhood and he isn’t afraid to pull me outside and make me walk across the street to see his good work.  He melts my heart when he’s with Haines and Deacon (our niece and nephew) and I love that my family loves him as much as they love me.

Basically, he’s the best.

And he’s all mine.

And while we celebrate his birthday, we also celebrate the past year.  It’s been a fun one!

Hawaii.

Raleigh date nights.

Hosting a luau.

Celebrating our 1-year anniversary at The Fearrington.

Kentucky Derby at the Club.

Ocean Isle Beach trips.

Spontaneous Savannah.

Fire in the Triangle.

Cooking.

Lots of cooking.

Pirate football.

Tampa.

Wine.

And more wine.  (even red wine.)

2014 was an amazing year.  And I can’t wait to see what 2015 (and 32!) has in store for us.

Elegant Holiday Dinner Party Menu

Between now and the end of the year, I’m sure many of you will be entertaining others with dinner.  Here is a fool-proof, delicious dinner menu for eight.  I prepared this exact menu last Saturday evening for our Christmas with Big Guy’s family.  I prepped many of the ingredients the night before which made execution of dinner less stressful.

Cocktail Hour:

Sparkling Cider
Pomegranate Cheese Ball 

Dinner Menu:

Roast Beef Tenderloin with Cognac Butter
Carrot Mash with Crème Fraîche
Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Slow-Fried Shallots

I chose to go with the sparkling cider cocktail for cocktail hour because it’s incredibly simple with only two ingredients.  We had a wine pairing planned for dinner so I wanted something sparkling.  Sparkling Cider is simply prosecco topped with spiced apple cider (Trader Joe’s brand is my absolute favorite and I stock up every fall).  I also prepped the cheese ball the night before except for the pomegranate seeds.  Roll the cheese ball in the pomegranate seeds right before serving for best results.  Since I had made the cheese ball the night before, I took it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving so that the cheese could soften a bit.

The tenderloin is super easy to prep – and this was done about an hour before we were going to put it in the oven.  However, I made the cognac butter Saturday morning after letting the butter soften on the counter over night.  We doubled the amount of beef that we cooked to make sure there was plenty and so that there would be leftovers for the coming week.

The only thing I prepped in advance for the carrots was slicing the carrots the night before and chopping the green onions.  I stored both in airtight containers so they were ready when I was on Saturday.

And to round out the dinner prep, I shredded the Brussels the night before and sliced the shallots and stored those in zip lock bags in the fridge.

xmas dinner

Thanks to all my prep work, getting dinner on the table was a breeze.  Big Guy was in charge of the seasoning the tenderloin and making sure it was cooked to perfection (medium-rare).  The great thing about tenderloin is that if there are folks that prefer their meat more well-done, the slices at the ends are perfectly cooked to their likeness.  I sliced up the cognac butter and placed it on a serving dish.  The carrots simmered away as the beef was roasting and then mashed with a potato masher until the desired consistency is reached.  I decided against pulling out the food processor and left them a little chunky.  While the carrots simmer, prepare the crème fraîche mixture.  And finally it was time the prepare the Brussels.  The shallots are fried in a low-temperature skillet with canola oil until crispy.  It takes about 10 minutes and the texture is unbelievable.  I didn’t start cooking the Brussels until after the beef was taken out of the oven to rest as I didn’t want to risk soggy Brussels.

The end result was a gorgeous plate full of flavor.  The butter was the perfect compliment to the tender, lean cut of beef.  While cognac isn’t a liquor that I typically drink or keep on hand, it paired beautifully with the butter and beef.  The carrots were tender yet bright and tangy.  I adored the addition of orange zest to the carrots – such a great twist on the typical sweet potato side dish.  And finally the Brussels.  Honestly, it’s a no frills recipe but the fried shallots make the side dish incredibly rich without being heavy.

done

To say that it was a successful dinner would be an understatement.

And while I love to create my own menus, having a menu to follow was such a life saver as far as my sanity.  I was able to enjoy a stress-free dinner instead of worrying about the food.

Cheers!

Crock-Pot Spicy, Smoky, Sweet Chili

Happy Monday, y’all!  Two more weeks of work and I’ll be enjoying a Christmas “break.”  On Friday night Big Guy and I had tickets to the local production of “A Christmas Carol.”  I was incredibly impressed and can’t recommend the show enough to the locals.  So much talent.

Saturday morning we were up bright and early to head Raleigh to knock out some Christmas shopping.  We arrived at the mall just as the doors were opening to try and beat the crazy frenzy of holiday shoppers.  In between stores, we grabbed some sushi and finally made it home around 5 pm to enjoy a date night in.  Sunday included baking cookies (for me) and yard work (for him) before relaxing and enjoying the afternoon with friends.  One our favorite couples came over to watch the ECU vs. UNC basketball game.  Let’s be honest, there wasn’t a whole lot of watching the game but it was the perfect excuse to enjoy sparkling cider cocktails.  It was also the perfect excuse to prep the crock pot early in the day with a big batch of chili.  And you guys, I have a new favorite go-to chili recipe.

Full of meat and beans, this chili is the ultimate comfort food.  It’s smoky from the smoked paprika and chili powder; sweet from the “secret” addition of vegetarian baked beans; and spicy from a little cayenne pepper.  It’s also incredibly thick – my favorite kind of chili.

I used and 80/20 mix of beef because I wanted a deep and rich flavor profile.  You could totally use lean beef or turkey but I would recommend a little fat – that’s where all the flavor’s at.

Marlo brought over some cornbread that was insanely delicious.  Sweet and tender, the perfect side to a big bowl of chili topped with sharp cheddar, Greek yogurt (or sour cream) and a sprinkle of green onions.

 

The chili would make great leftovers (if there is any) and it’s a crowd pleaser – so make a double batch.

Do you have a go-to chili recipe?  

Did you do anything “festive” this past weekend?

Coffee Chat

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If we were having coffee this morning…I would remind you that we’ve entered into the last month of 2014.  I know I say it every.single.month but this year has flown by – it’ll be 2015 before we know it.

If we were having coffee this morning...I would tell you all about my Thanksgiving.  We had a wonderful time with Chris’ family – including photo shoots, sangria, the best fried turkey and Christmas movies.  And while I missed my family oh-so-much it was so nice to spend a few days with my in-laws.

If we were having coffee this morning…I would tell you how hard of a worker Big Guy is.  He never ceases to amaze me.

If we were having coffee this morning…I would bring you some Pecan Pie Bark.  It’s incredibly easy to make and addicting.  Everyone will love it!

If we were having coffee this morning…I would share the recipe for an appetizer/snack I made for Thanksgiving.  The Pomegranate Jeweled White Cheddar, Toasted Almond and Crispy Sage Cheeseball was a HIT!  I plan on making another one very soon.  I loved the pop of juiciness from the pomegranate seeds.

cheese ball

If we were having coffee this morning… I would tell you about my lasted “problem.”  I simply cannot figure out how to “dress” the dining room table for the holidays.  I literally walked around Pier One yesterday for 45 minutes and nothing struck my fancy.  Wish me luck on Saturday.

If we were having coffee this morning…I would tell you about my latest kitchen “fail.”  Thankfully it still tastes good.  The dulce de leche simply sunk to the bottom of the bread while cooking so it’s still edible.

If we were having coffee this morning…I would tell you that I redeemed myself, though!  Dinner on Sunday evening was fantastic.  The cheesiest Chicken Tortilla Chip Casserole was incredibly delicious.  I forget how much I love a good casserole.  This casserole was perfect served on top of a bed of lettuce – it kind of reminded me of nachos…but in casserole form.

If we were having coffee this morning…I would tell you about all my Christmas traditions.  And one of my favorite is one that Big Guy and I started about 4 years ago.  We take the Monday after Thanksgiving off work and spend the day decorating and tidying up the house.  The best part of the day is when it’s time to “trim the tree” – we pour ourselves a drink and put Elf on to watch as we decorate and bring out some of our favorite ornaments from the past years.

If we were having coffee this morning… I would tell you that our tree is a beauty.  I cannot wait to share some pictures.  It’s a monster, though.

Weekend Review {sweet potato risotto, duck and honey roasted carrots}

It’s Thanksgiving week!  I simply cannot believe how fast this year has gone.  I also can’t believe that it’s already Monday.  I feel like it was just Friday.

The weekend was full of fun, friends and football.  Oh, and delicious food.

Friday night started off with dropped oats.  No, seriously.

I was working away in the kitchen, prepping food for Saturday and the next thing I knew, I had dropped the oats and they went everywhere.  I’m sure I’ll be finding oats for days.

Dropping the oats was a sign that I needed to pour myself a glass of wine.

And that’s just what I did.

We spent most of the evening getting ready for the tailgate on Saturday as well as snacks for after the game.  But I did find time to prepare the most incredible dinner - Roasted Sweet Potato Risotto.

The risotto rivals my favorite risotto recipe and is seriously dinner party worthy.

The browned butter, bacon, and herbs took it over the top.

It was so sad to get to the end of the bowl.  Creamy, perfectly cooked rice with salty bacon and buttery roasted sweet potatoes.

Luscious, I tell you, simply luscious.

Saturday was spent cheering on the Pirates and I was so glad we got a WIN!  Oh, and I got to spend time with one of my bests – Kat.

Yesterday we had big plans in the kitchen!

Big Guy has been wanted to cook a whole duck and yesterday was the day.

The process was quite laborious, but it was totally worth the time and effort.

For the Duck a l’Orange we not only roasted a whole duck but we made a “duck stock” that became the orange sauce that was so delicious.

Cooking a whole duck caused a little concern because I really didn’t want to be disappointed.  But the end result was far better than I expected.  The skin was crispy, the duck was tender and moist and the flavor was perfection.

We started with a simple salad of homegrown greens, an apricot vinaigrette with walnuts and goat cheese.  And with our duck, Honey Roasted Carrots.  The carrots were supposed to be maple-roasted but I didn’t realize I had run out of maple.  Thankfully the honey paired perfectly with the carrots and I loved the addition of fresh parsley on top – it really brightened up the whole plate as did the blanched orange zest.

These carrots would be a wonderful addition to any Thanksgiving feast.

So there you have it!  My weekend review.  Three days stand between me and a long weekend full of family and food.  Oh, and Christmas trees.

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

 

 

Friday Favorites

It’s only been a 3-day work week for me but I’m so ready for the weekend.  It’s going to be a fun one!  One of my bestest friends from college (we met at the bus stop freshman year) who lives in Houston now is coming to visit with her husband.  I haven’t seen her since last September and I am ohemgeesoexcited!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  

We have a fun Friday night planned for them and Saturday is going to be totally low-key.  I’m talking football on the t.v., trashy football appetizers and ribs for dinner.  It’s going to be epic.  And then Sunday I’ll probably stayed buried under a blanket on the couch watching DVRed shows since it seems that winter wants to come in the middle of fall.  Woof.

Let’s get to the good stuff…

Favorite Crumbs:  Cranberry Pecan Crumb Bars.  Something about cranberries screams “the holidays” in my world.  And you add in a little brown butter and pecans and you have yourself a holiday dessert.

 

Favorite Dip:  Warm Honey Fig Dip with Blue Cheese.    This appetizer would be the perfect compromise for Big Guy and me…pungent blue cheese for him, sweet figs for me.  Pass the pita, please.

 

Favorite Layers:  Lately I’ve been on the hunt for a perfect sweater to buy in seven colors so that I can wear it every day.  I’ve purchased a couple from the Loft and I haven’t been impressed this year…

 

Favorite Date Night:  Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Balsamic-Sage Brown Butter Sauce.  Gnocchi is a funny word that no one can pronounce correctly (well, at least a few folks in my family can’t) and seems quite daunting to make.  Since Big Guy and I find ourselves “dating” over food – how fun would be be to make homemade gnocchi from our homegrown potatoes?  “Fun” sure does have a differently meaning at 31.

 

Favorite DIY:  Turn your Instagram photos into a photo book.  I promise that is super easy (hey, I did it).  I took all my photos from 2013 and turned them into an easy-to-view book that others can flip through.  I can’t wait to create one for 2014.

 

Favorite Cozy:  Coq au Vin with Brown Butter Sage Mashed Potatoes.  Those fancy words mean “chicken in red wine mushroom sauce” in a nutshell.  Basically, the perfect Sunday supper.

 

Favorite Twinkle:  Some may find these obnoxiously sparkly, I find them ridiculously fun.

Favorite Bubbles:  The Honey Badger.  A little party in your cup.

 

Cheers…you made it to Friday.