Friday, June 29, 2012

Quick and Easy Appetizer

On really nice afternoons, Ryan and I like to enjoy a cocktail and appetizers on our back porch. Since the weather can get REALLY hot and humid in NC, we take advantage of the 70 and 80 degree days as much as possible. Both of us have indoor jobs, so the extra Vitamin D really helps!

Quick and Easy Appetizer

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Beer Can Chicken

Imagine my excitement when Ryan asked if he could write a guest post on the blog for my birthday! How could a girl say no to that! He had already drafted the post and done all of the research on his topic, which of course is beer! If you know Ryan, you know that he loves good microbrews! He would definitely fall into the category of "beer-snob" :)

Beer Can Chicken

Over the weekend, we made a beer-can chicken, which I thought would go perfectly with his post. This was one of the first recipes Ryan and I made when we first moved in together. We figured it was about time to bust it out of the recipe book and make some updates, such as using my chili rub and a Belgian-Style Golden Ale from Triangle Brewing Company. I have included the recipe below. Enjoy the post!

Beer Can Chicken

Hubby Guest Post: North Carolina Breweries

Hey there!  Ryan Kettler here, aka “the husband” or “Hubby”.  You may have heard a thing or two about me on this blog and let me preface this article by saying, they’re all true. I love my wife very much. There are a lot of things I love about her, but right at the top of that list is the amazing food she cooks for me on a daily basis. I know you’ve read about some of these superb dishes on this very blog! I could not have chosen a better person to spend the rest of my life with!

One of my passions in life is great beer.  I’m not talking about any of the “Big 3” of Budweiser, Coors, or Miller.  Those beers are acceptable for 3 reasons; quantity, cost, and hot days. The beers I’ve grown to love are brewed in small, craft batches by microbreweries across the United States. These beers should be enjoyed in their own specific glass and should be sipped, not chugged, glugged, or bong’d. There’s a good reason behind this advice, most craft beers have an alcohol content of 6-13%, compared to the 3-4% range of the big 3. Don’t fall for the gimmicks of the big 3; wide-mouths, vortex necks, air holes, color-changing cans, etc.  If you haven’t noticed, most, if not all of these gimmicks have the same end-result in mind. DRINK MORE OF OUR CRAPPY BEER AT A QUICKER PACE SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO TASTE IT AND HAVE TO BUY MORE SOONER.

Triangle Brewing Co

The “microbrewery revolution”, as I call it, is quickly sweeping over the nation. We’re very lucky to live in the Raleigh-Durham area as we’re spoiled with some awesome home-grown breweries such as Big Boss, Lonerider, Roth Brewing Company, Triangle Brewing Company, Carolina Brewing Company, and Aviator Brewing Company among others. North Carolina as a state is leading the "revolution" with new breweries opening all the time.  Here’s a map of all the breweries in North Carolina.

North Carolina Breweries

We’ve also been blessed to have some top-notch establishments open up in the area such as Bottle Revolution and Tasty Beverage Company in Raleigh and Sam’s Quik Shop in Durham. At these places, you we can purchase beers that you can’t normally find in the supermarkets at modest prices, much to the chagrin of my wife. :)

LoneRider Brewing Company

People in our wonderful state love good beer. They also love amazing food. The realization that beer is deliciously complex in flavor has been the impetus for many fine-dining establishments to start offering a beer list that’s often comparable, if not more impressive, than the wine list!

Aviator Brewing Company

There’s a good reason for this.  The flavors found in craft beers run the gamut; from citrus, floral, smoke, chocolate, vanilla, coffee, oak, bourbon, chili, coconut and many more.  There has been much debate over what pairs better with food, beer or wine. It’s the battle of the beer-snobs vs. the wine-snobs. I, of course, am biased. I love beer with food. Not only because of the flavor, but also the price! You’ll typically save at least $3-4 by ordering a beer with dinner instead of a glass of wine.  Plus, you want to support your local economy, so don’t buy an overpriced California wine when you could buy a spectacular craft beer brewed right in your backyard!

Big Boss Brewing Company

So you want to try some beer with your food, but you don’t know where to start. I found this helpful chart that you should check out.

My personal favorite style of beer is the India Pale Ale or IPA for short. This style of beer was first brewed in England back in the mid 1800s with high amounts of hops, which are a natural preservative.  Since the beer could stay fresh longer after bottled, it could last the long journey to India, which at the time was a British colony. The hoppy/bitter flavor of an IPA is often times too intense for novice beer drinkers.  If this is the case for you, maybe you start with an amber ale, brown ale, or a kolsch.  All of these beers are much easier on the palette. 

I encourage you to be adventurous.  Try new beer, and try it often.  There are no 2 craft beers that taste the same, so you’re bound to find something you enjoy eventually. Cheers!

Beer Can Chicken

Yields: 4-6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes 
Cook Time: 70-75 minutes

1 4-5lb whole organic chicken
3 T of my chili rub (could also use Old Bay)
2 tsp olive oil (or butter)
salt and pepper
1 can of favorite beer (used Golden Ale)

Pull the chicken and can of beer out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to roasting. Open the beer and pour out half into a glass. Preheat the oven to 350F and pull out a large baking dish.

Beer Can Chicken

To prep the chicken, first remove the giblets and and neck from the cavity (if came with the chicken). Rinse the chicken under water and pat dry. Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil (or butter) and then sprinkle the rub or spice of choice all over the outside of the bird. Be sure to get around the legs, wings and inside the cavity.

Beer Can Chicken

Lower the chicken onto the beer can, so that the can is inside the cavity and the chicken is standing upright (legs down). If the wings are not up against the chicken, cut a slit in the breast and stick them in there for more even cooking. Place the chicken and beer in a large baking dish and place in the center of the oven. Roast the chicken at 350F for 45 minutes.

Beer Can Chicken

Turn the pan around and cook for another 20-25 minutes until a themometer in the thickest part of the thigh reads 160F. When the chicken is finished, pull out of the oven and let rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove the can from the chicken and discard. Slice the chicken and serve!

Beer Can Chicken

We made a quick mushroom-beer sauce to go with our chicken. Saute shallots in butter and add mushrooms. Saute these until the mushrooms cook down and release water. Add in beer, salt and pepper and reduce down. Yummy!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad

If I had to pick a favorite fruit season, hands down, it is peaches! Don't get me wrong, I love my strawberries, but there is something special about a good peach season.

Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad |

With the first sight of peaches at the market, my brain starts spinning of recipe ideas. I usually have to narrow it down since I still have a full time job and can't cook all day (although I would love to). One of the recipes I knew I wanted to work on for the blog was using grilled peaches. From previous posts, we all know my love for grilling any type of vegetable, including lettuce, but really this love also applies to the sweet nectar of the gods....peaches!

Typically, you don't get the fall-off-the-pit peaches until later in the season, but I was so impatient, I bought some anyways and cut around the pit to get perfect nice halves.

Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad |

I also found some amazing micro arugula from the market. If you think regular arugula is good, try the micro greens! They are basically baby versions of the green, but pack just as much vitamins, minerals and taste as the "adult" version. Another fantastic find from the market was some Farmer's goat cheese from one of the vendors. Top this off with chives from my garden and some of my good olive oil and balsamic got yourself one heck of salad there, Champ!

Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad |

Ryan was in charge of the grill. I told him to get some nice grill marks on both sides, but not to cook the peaches down too much or else it will start to loose all the juices.

Then came the ultimate test, the husband taste test. Ryan probably gets so freaked out when we first sit down to a meal and I stare him down, waiting in anticipation for his facial expression and remarks from the first bite of a new dish.

Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad |

He loved it! Ryan likes to eat the salad first at a meal, so he scarfed it down and gave me that, oh, so wonderful, reassuring look of approval. Success! Another peach recipe in the docket!

Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad

Yields: 2 salads
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5-8 minutes

1 ripe yellow peach
Fresh arugula (find micro greens if you can, or spinach)
Favorite goat cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Fresh chives, chopped
Salt and pepper

Slice the peach in half and remove the pit - try to do this as gently as possible to leave the halves intact for presentation. Heat a grill (or grill pan) on medium heat and place the peach halves on the grill cut-side down first. After a few minutes, flip the halves to cook the other side.

Meanwhile, assemble the lettuce, cheese and chives on a plate. Place the cooked peach halves on top of the salad and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gravy, and Golf, and Guns! Oh My!

There is nothing better than enjoying a beautiful, fun- and food-filled weekend with family. Ryan and I went to the mountains to celebrate Father's Day and did just that with the "Old Man!!" 

Dad is pretty easy to cook for, the greasier, the better! One of his favorite greasy treats was from my grandmother's kitchen. So, it was time for me to finally learn how to make my Mimi's famous sausage gravy. Here is a sneak peak at breakfast, but first a little golfing and gun action!

Sausage Gravy |

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Limoncello Experiment (terza e ultima parte)

A 30-day project has turned into a 3-month project, but well worth the wait! If you recall from my first post about limoncello, Ryan and I really wanted a more authentic version of limoncello to remind us of our wedding day! After the first try, I changed several things about the recipe for my second post. Now, I think I have finally perfected the blend just in time for Father's Day!

The Limoncello Experiment |
Straight from the freezer with a sprig of mint from my garden!
Here are my final thoughts after three tries:
  1. Start with a very large container or glass bottle. When you add the simple syrup, it increases in volume!
  2. Use the strongest vodka you can find (recommend 100 proof). If lower, the limoncello will actually solidify in the freezer!
  3. Don't add the simple syrup all at once. I prefer a less sweet limoncello, so I don't use all the simple syrup in my own recipe. 

Aren't you impressed with my Italian?!?! Salute!!

The Limoncello Experiment |

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Seared Squash and Quinoa Salad

Last night was one of my favorite kind of nights....I look into the refrigerator, see what we have and came up with a new dish! This is like a fun game for me, I try to do this about once a week, if I can. Of course, I think about things ahead of time and ponder on various ideas, but it usually doesn't come together until I am standing in front of the open fridge door!

Seared Squash and Quinoa Salad |

This weekend, my friend Tom brought us some fresh green beans and squash (huge squash I might add) from his organic garden. Tom DEFINITELY has a green thumb! He makes his own fertilizer and grows from seeds.

Seared Squash and Quinoa Salad |

Since the veggies were straight from his garden, I wanted to use them right away. I had this huge bag of multicolored quinoa that was screaming my name and a few more romaine leaves. Hence, the following dish came together while Ryan was patiently waiting for me to start movie night! 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cooking for a Crowd and a Recipe

In the Kettler house, I am used to cooking for 4 people. Even though there are only 2 of us, we like to have leftovers for weekday lunches. And most recipes are made for the average family size of 4. However, when the dinner table expands in our house and I know I will be feeding more than 4 people, I plan ahead, and then plan some more. 

This past weekend, we had several great friends come to visit. We were all running in a Ninja Challenge 5k Saturday morning, so I decided to make a pasta dish to carb up!

Our team name: Karate Men Bleed on the Inside!
With all our buddies traveling in, Ryan and I wanted to treat them to a home-cooked meal! Ryan was an awesome sous chef and helped me get everything ready (including several grocery trips). All this doesn't come naturally though, I have picked up a few tips over the past few years and thought I might share with you! Also, scroll down to the bottom for my Trash recipe, and no this isn't actual garbage, it is a baked chex mix recipe that has been in my family for years. Awesome and Addictive! 

Chex Mix Called Trash

What are some of your "tips" for cooking for a crowd?

Tip #1 - Plan Ahead

You don't want to be caught with your Chef pants down!! Start with what kind of food you want to serve and plan ahead. Here are some questions to start with:

  • Is there a theme to the party or get together?
  • What produce will be in season?
  • How many people?
  • How much do you want to spend?
  • Do any of your guests have special diets or food allergies?

Tip #2 - Always have enough food

Better to have more than not enough food. It only took one time for me to learn this lesson and I have not had the problem since. If a recipe makes 4 servings and you have 8 people coming over for dinner, double the recipe AND add an extra side dish or salad to make sure there is enough to go around.

Tip #3 - Cook for them, not you

The first thing to remember is you are cooking for your guests! I would be happy serving roasted beets over herb infused quinoa, but not everyone would enjoy that. I have a wide range of appetites among my friends and family. Vegetarians, gluten-free, dairy-free, nut allergies, shellfish allergies. Be sure to keep all of these in mind when planning your meal. If a large crowd is expected including guests you don't know as well, always go for the safe side: offer at least one vegetarian meal that doesn't contain nuts. Also, try to stay away from really exotic flavors and ingredients. Some people might not be as experimental as you.

Tip #4 - Prepare ahead

The last thing you want to do is disappear to the kitchen while your guests are there. They have come to visit with you too! Try to plan meals that are easy to prepare ahead of time and that only require cooking time, or make something ahead and reheat once the guests arrive. Here are a few menu ideas:

Tip #5 - Don't try a new recipe

I added this tip in last minute because this has happened to me before. I got all excited about cooking for a group and decided to try a new recipe that sounded delicious. This went wrong in so many ways! I had to keep referring to the recipe since I wasn't familiar, all the while trying to entertain our guests. I completely missed several key steps and it turned out awful! Hey, it happens to us all. 

Chex Mix Called Trash

Serves: Makes a gallon bag worth
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour

4 cups Chex cereal (I like to use Rice and Wheat)
2 cups cheese crackers (Reduced fat Cheez-its are the best)
2 cups Bugles (Can replace with Cheerios for a bit healthier version)
2 cups pretzels
1 small container of mixed nuts or favorite nuts
1/2 stick butter
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano
2 T Worcestershire 
3-5 dashes of favorite hot sauce 
1 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

Chex Mix Called Trash

Preheat oven to 250F. In a large baking dish (I like to use a large, cheap turkey roasting pan to make stirring easier), mix the chex, pretzels, cheese crackers, bugles and nuts together. 

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the dill, oregano, garlic powder, Worcestershire and hot sauce. Stir to combine and remove from heat. Pour over the chex mixture and gently stir to incorporate the butter-spice mixture. Pour the cheese over the mix and gently stir again to incorporate.

Chex Mix Called Trash

Bake in the 250F oven for an hour, stirring every 20 minutes. Let the mixture cool completely and serve or store in zip-lock bags or containers for up to a month.

Chex Mix Called Trash

This is a great recipe for parties and holidays!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Spicy Pimento Cheese

Pimento Cheese! If you are one of my Southern readers, then you know the goodness that comes from the combination of cheese and pimentos. And if you are not from the South, well, then branch out!

Spicy Pimento Cheese |

I introduced my Hubby to pimento cheese when we first started dating 8 years ago, and he was hooked! He has officially claimed my latest batch as "the BEST pimento cheese I have ever made!" (quite a compliment I must say)

Along with the curry egg salad recipe, this is one of his frequently requested dishes! He puts it on everything...crackers, eggs, potatoes, sandwiches. I have even seen him eating it straight from the container with a spoon.

What is the key to a good pimento cheese, you ask?

Well, let's think about that carefully....THE CHEESE. You must start with good cheese. And no, Velveta does NOT count! I think the best combination is a sharp white cheddar (preferably Vermont or New Zealand) and a Gruyere/Swiss mixture I get from Trader Joe's. If you want to splurge, you can just do Gruyere, but it is expensive.

Spicy Pimento Cheese |

In my opinion, this is the best pimento cheese recipe out there, but I might be a little biased. Ryan definitely agrees with me! I will be the first to admit that this is not the healthiest dish on my site. However, it is certainly a lot healthier than the version that you buy in the grocery store. I am using less mayonnaise and a lighter version. I am also using a harder cheese, which has less saturated fat than a softer cheddar. And finally, there are such bold flavors in the recipe, that a serving is less than usual (although it is hard to resist)!

Spicy Pimento Cheese

Yields: 4 1/2 cups
Prep Time: 5 minutes

2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese (Cabot preferred)
2 cups shredded Gruyere cheese (I use the Swiss and Gruyere mix from Trader Joe's)
1/3 cup lite mayonnaise
1/3 cup lite sour cream
3 jalapenos, seeds removed and finely chopped
4 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
1 (4 ounce) jar of pimentos 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery salt

Mix everything in a large bowl until well combined. Adjust the spices to taste. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks (if it lasts that long)!!

*Only add two jalapenos for a more mild pimento cheese.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Asparagus Fritters with Fried Duck Eggs

Nothing pleases me more than a quiet, slow Sunday morning. Waking up without an alarm, a fresh cup of coffee and the Sunday Times, all while still in my PJ's! Sometimes I will put on music or TV in the background, or sometimes just complete silence. Either way, it is a wonderful time for me to recharge after a full work-week and crazy weekend. 

Asparagus Fritters with Fried Duck Eggs |

Ryan usually strolls down a few hours later, at which time I make another pot of coffee. And on that rare occasion, we will make a delicious breakfast together that doesn't involve cereal or a yogurt to go. A trip to the Farmer's Market the day before allowed for a stocked kitchen to come up with something delicious. I thought with all the beautiful vegetables, fritters were in order. And, I found organic duck eggs at the Market, that would go perfectly, over-easy on top.

Asparagus Fritters with Fried Duck Eggs |

After several cups of coffee, loud music and finally getting the hubby out of bed, we got to work! I took on the fritters and Ryan poured juice, and fried the eggs. I have to say, he has perfected this (one of his many talents)!

Asparagus Fritters with Fried Duck Eggs |

Fritters, fried duck eggs and strawberries on the side. It was a delightful breakfast to start our Sunday Fun-day! 

Asparagus Fritters with Fried Duck Eggs |

You can substitute zucchini or squash for the asparagus and normal chicken eggs if you can't find duck eggs. However, if you have access to duck eggs, get them! They are richer than chicken, but absolutely divine. 

Asparagus Fritters with Fried Duck Eggs

Yields: 4 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10-15 minutes, 

1 pound asparagus, trimmed
1 handful oregano, chopped
1 handful chives, chopped
2 tablespoons leeks, washed and finely chopped (can use green onions or shallots)  
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/3 cup spelt flour (can use all-purpose or a gluten-free flour)
1 regular egg
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 organic duck eggs (can use chicken)

In a large food processor, process the asparagus until it is grated.

Pour the grated asparagus into a large bowl and add the herbs, leeks, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, flour and regular egg. Mix this well, incorporating the egg and flour evenly. Stir in salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should hold together when pinched. If not, add a bit more flour.

Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Once the pan and oil are both hot, spoon the asparagus mixture into the pan and gently push down to form a patty (about 3 inches wide). I had to do this in 2 batches. If this is the case, split up the olive oil. Cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes, until it is golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side for the same amount of time. The mixture will make about 8 fritters.

Top with your favorite style egg, herbs and salt and pepper. If you really wanted to go another decadent step, you could top with a Hollandaise sauce. However, the duck egg yolk is rich enough for us!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Soft Shell Crab

Let's get real with seafood today! A few weeks ago, I came across an article on soft shell crab. As someone who claims to be an expert seafood eater, I have never had soft shell crab as a main dish. So, naturally, I had to fix that!

I called up my parents to discuss the upcoming visit and asked if they wanted it for dinner one night. I knew they would be all over this idea!

Soft Shell Crab |

Growing up, I spent many summers at the beach. My father grew up on the coast, and as a result KNOWS good seafood. And since he knows good seafood, he taught me well:

  • It has to be fresh or I ain't touching it!!
  • Stay away from fried seafood. Why ruin a great thing by covering up the taste of it.
  • All you need is Old Bay :)
Since the Hubby grew up in the Midwest, he wasn't accustomed to fresh seafood very often. I quickly learned this about him when we first started dating and tried to introduce him to my family seafood traditions and events...such as the oyster roast! (I think my family could put down 20 bushels of oysters in one sitting easily, but that is for another time and post).

Soft Shell Crab |

Back to the issue at hand...soft shell crab. I called several local seafood markets and found luck with a fresh batch brought in that morning. I rushed over, bought several crabs per person and headed straight to my parents. Through this little cooking adventure, I learned several things from my parents about cooking soft shell crab:

  • A good rule of thumb is 2 crabs per person.
  • Always eat the crabs within 24 hours of purchasing them. The fresher, the better.
  • If they weren't frozen and just caught, even better!!
  • They cook quick!!
  • The entire crab is edible - not for the weak stomached!
  • They are packed with flavor, but can be a different consistency than normal crabs.
So after my first experience cooking and eating soft shell crab, I have to say I feel educated and cultured! I loved the flavor, and even though I had a hard time with the consistency at first, I still managed to gobble the whole thing down. Needless to say, my parents devoured them and LOVED it. That was enough to make me happy!

Soft Shell Crab |

Soft Shelled Crab

Yields: 3-4 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes

6 soft shelled crab, fresh
Old Bay seasoning
chili rub seasoning
salt and pepper
ghee or butter

In a shallow bowl or large plate, mix the flour and spices together.

In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat.

Dredge each crab in the flour mixture and place in the pan quickly. After 2-3 minutes, flip the crabs and cook the other side for 2-3 minutes more. Remove and serve immediately.

Soft Shell Crab |
Like the blue nails??

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Grilled Romaine Salad

What is it about summer that makes you want to stand in front of a hot Weber and grill...everything!! This is always the first thing Ryan and I do when the weather warms up in NC. We stock up on charcoal and fill our refrigerator with meats, vegetables, pizza dough and even fruits for the grill. One of our favorite grill recipes is a grilled romaine salad.

Grilled Romaine Salad |

Possibly the quickest and easiest salad with the most flavor! If we are grilling a meat we always have this as a side to help reduce the dirty dish load. This salad is so versatile and great for cleaning out your fridge! I usually never use the same toppings, but my favorites are roasted red peppers, Parmesan, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Grilled Romaine Salad |

Another great thing about this salad is that it doesn't need a dressing. The lettuce gets so much flavor from the charcoal. However, a little drizzle of olive oil is nice to moisten up the lettuce a bit.

Above all else, remember the rules for grilling: Rule #1, pour yourself a cocktail!

Grilled Romaine Salad |
Mint Julep using mint from my garden!

Grilled Romaine Salad

Yields: 4 salads
Prep Time: pretty much nothing!
Cook Time: 3-5 minutes

2 Romaine heads, cut in half lengthwise

Olive oil
Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper
Favorite toppings

Prepare a grill to medium heat (or if cooking something else on higher heat, use the outer edges of the grill to cook the romaine hearts). Slice the romaine hearts in half, lengthwise and spray with olive oil spray (lightly). Grill the romaine halves on medium heat or on the outer edge of the grill for 2-3 minutes per side. The goal is to get a slight grill mark on the lettuce, but still keep it's crispness. 

Remove from the grill and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and your favorite toppings. Serve immediately.