Monday, February 21, 2011

Shaken Not Stirred

There is nothing quite like a good dirty martini. Not only are they glamorous, but they're also quite delicious. Capital Room in downtown Athens serves up an amazing Blue Cheese Martini. Made with vodka, a dash of vermouth, a touch of olive juice, and Mayfield blue cheese stuffed olives this martini is out of this world. I never thought I would find a better martini, but this weekend I met a close competitor. Food 101's signature martini is served dirty with goat cheese stuffed olives. The creamy tanginess of the cheese was a match made in heaven for salty queen olives. Although I can't say which martini is better, I will agree that dirty martinis served with cheese stuffed olives will always be a hit.

Stuff your own olives at home! Buy pitted olives (green olives preferably) and stuff with cheese of choice, try a variety to see what you like best. Drop in your favorite dirty martini concoction and enjoy responsibly!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Food 101

Last night I enjoyed a grouper dish layered with a hedgehog mushroom and spinach broth. The mushrooms had an intriguing flavor I was not familiar with, so I did a bit of research to find out more on these unique fungi. Hedgehog mushrooms are wild, creamy yellow mushrooms with firm flesh and a succulent, tangy flavor. They are also commonly referred to as a wood hedgehog mushroom.Recognizable by teethlike-spines that protrude from the cap, these mushrooms are best enjoyed cooked slowly. Recipe ideas include soups, pastas, and sauces.

Peanut Challenge

Last week Rebecca gave me 5 pounds of peanuts. What does one do with 5 pounds of peanuts? Make peanut butter of course!

Homemade Crunchy Peanut Butter

4 cups roasted peanuts
3 tablespoons honey
1 stick of butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Combine in a food processor until a uniform texture is reached.

Pucker Up

For your next Italian dinner, make Lemon Garlic Bread. The tart twist will get your guests talking! Pair it with seafood pasta and enjoy!

Lemon Garlic Bread

1 stick butter (room temperature)

1 tsp freshly minced garlic

1 tsp lemon juice

zest of one lemon

½ tsp dried thyme

Salt and Pepper

1 loaf French bread

Preheat oven to 350. Combine ingredients (minus bread) in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment. Once the butter is well blended, spread on bread. Bake for 10 minutes.

*This lemon butter can also be served alone with fish.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Absolutely Zinful

Last weekend we had the most delicious dinner at JCT Kitchen. The food was out of this world and the wine, well it was life changing. I am not the biggest wine connoisseur; I get confused with pinots and grigios. Clearly I am not close to being a sommelier, but I do know when I like a good wine. Dad said this wine was a must-have, and before long I was in complete agreement. The Brazin Red Zinfandel was full in body and flavor. It paired well with everything I ate, even fish. Unfortunately it is a little tricky to find in stores, but I am on the look out for another glass of that decadent red wine. Please let me know if you find it!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Quack Quack Quack

The first time I had duck was 9 years ago at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Chinatown, NYC. I vaguely remember anything but dripping grease and the taste of fried oranges. Luckily, my second encounter was quite the opposite. I ordered risotto with duck confit, shitake mushrooms, and arugula at Speakeasy. The creaminess of the risotto gently complimented the crisp and flavorful skin of the duck. The earthiness of the mushrooms paired well with the bite of the arugula, making all the flavors harmonious.

Confit is a French method of preserving meats, typically goose or duck. The meat is cooked in its own fat, creating an unbelievable flavor and fall off the bone texture. Being a gamier-tasting poultry, duck has a much higher percentage of bone and fat to meat. The fatty skin contributes to the rich, decadent flavor that makes this meal so spectacular.

On Valentine’s Day I ordered duck confit again at La Dolce Vita. This time the protein was served over roasted fennel and potatoes. The duck literally melted in my mouth. The crispy skin contrasted with the luxurious meat created a balance of flavor and texture. I started to wonder, is it the technique of confit that makes this meal so delicious? Or is it the actual meat itself?

Peter Dale, executive chef at The National, proves that it is the method of cooking that adds so many flavors to the duck. He has recently come up with a play on duck confit, using chicken as the protein. Because duck is a more expensive, the National can offer this entrée for less than 20 dollars, but still give the customer a gourmet poultry dish. They use chicken thighs and legs from Springer Mountain Farms, located in North Georgia. The dish highlights this part of the chicken and serves it with parsnip puree, broccoli raab, and a blood orange and black pepper jus. Preparing the chicken in fat creates the same rich flavors that go into duck confit. As with any dish, adding fat simply makes it better. Might not be good for the waist line, but certainly makes it taste scrumptious!

Check out this website for more ideas on duck confit!

Eat More. Spend Less.

For my magazine writing class, we had to turn our 4 page papers into two short magazine briefs. One being 100 words, the other being 75. Not a simple task. Here's what I did:

Athens’ foodies on beer budgets can satisfy their champagne taste with daily deals and specials. Rebecca Lang, a local cookbook author says, “People have to have an incentive and feel like they are getting a deal.” Around town restaurants are looking for ways to attract customers on tighter budgets. Speakeasy holds happy hour every weeknight from 5:00-7:00 p.m. At this time all tapas are half price. The National hosts “Dinner and a Movie” every Monday and Tuesday. For 29 dollars customers get a movie ticket, appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Taking advantage of bargains lets customers dine well for low costs.

To eat out on a budget, dining innovatively is a must. Peter Dale, executive chef at The National, recommends sharing appetizers and an entrée. He says, “A bunch of appetizers [lets you] try lots of flavors and more creative things a chef can do.” Besides appetizers, tapas are very popular. Ordering a few to share replicates Dale’s concept so the last bite of dessert is what you remember, not the huge hole in your pocket.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Best Part of Waking Up

Yesterday I enjoyed one of life’s simple pleasures, the perfect cup of coffee. I decided to spend my afternoon studying at a local coffee shop. Two Story Coffeehouse, located in Athens’ Five Points district, has a great screened-in porch. With temperatures in the upper 60s the back porch was the perfect place to sit, sip, and study. I ordered their Café Au Lait, added a splenda, and was in heaven! Café Au Lait, also known as Café Misto, is a French coffee drink made of coffee and steamed milk. A simple, yet luscious combination!

To make it at home:

Heat whole milk in a saucepan. Brew your favorite coffee. Add ½ cup of hot milk and ½ cup of coffee to cup. Stir and enjoy!

*I add one Splenda to my cup, but sweeten as you like!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

The best way to celebrate this Hallmark holiday is with a sweet batch of strawberry cupcakes (or an assorted box of Russell Stover’s). We used box cake mix as a short cut, but added strawberries to the batter, and topped them with homemade cream cheese icing. Everyone’s sweetheart and sweet tooth will be satisfied with these yummy treats!

Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

For the cake:

1 Box Strawberry Cake Mix (plus ingredients needed on box)
2 cups strawberries, chopped

For the Frosting (courtesy of Paula Deen with a few dietary adjustments by me):

16 oz fat free cream cheese
2 sticks “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups confectioner’s sugar

Pink icing for decoration

For the cupcakes, follow the directions of the box mix, adding the strawberries to the batter. Blend together the ingredients of the frosting, make sure the cream cheese and butter is at room temperature. Use the pink icing to decorate the cupcakes, we drew hearts!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Family Time

After a weekend apart, the roommates and I decided to spend our Sunday night bonding over yummy Southern comfort food. Claire made delicious macaroni and cheese from a recipe her Mom cut out of a magazine. Dry mustard and tons of sharp cheddar cheese made this unbelievable. Now that we have all had multiple servings, we have retreated to the couch to watch the Grammy’s. How I love Sunday nights with the Morton Family!

Here’s the recipe:

1 8-ounce box elbow macaroni
6 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated
3 eggs
3 cups milk
½ teaspoon dry mustard
Salt and pepper
½ stick butter

Preheat oven to 350. Cook the macaroni according to instructions. Drain once cooked. Layer half of the macaroni, cover with half the cheese. Repeat with the remaining macaroni and cheese. Beat eggs, add milk, salt, pepper, and mustard. Pour mixture over cheese and macaroni. Top with pieces of butter. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until firm, let stand for a few more minutes. Serve!

The Clean Plate Club

What makes a dinner so fantastic that even a smudge of sauce cannot be seen on the plate? I recently came across a book titled, “Clean Plates” that highlights the best of the best in Manhattan. Unfortunately I am not headed to The Big Apple anytime soon, so I decided to come up with a show-stopping dinner that tastes 5-star, but doesn’t come with the price tag.

Tilapia Picatta (omit the orzo)
Lemon Smashed Potatoes
Roasted Asparagus*

*For the asparagus: Preheat oven to 400. Snap off the bottom ends of the asparagus. Toss with 1 tblsp olive oil, ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper. Line on baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes.

The lemony flavor of the fish and potatoes is balanced beautifully with the roasted asparagus. Although some do not like foods to mix or touch, this is a great dish to let the sauce of the fish say hello to the asparagus. All great flavors, and all very simple. Thank you Cooking Light and Tyler Florence!

Flavors at Taki

Thursday night Flavors celebrated the debut of the winter 2010 issue, Simply Irresistible. Taki hosted the event, deemed very appropriate as the cover dish was a masterpiece from one of their chefs. The party was complete with an array of scrumptious appetizers: sushi rolls, wontons and dumplings to name a few. The evening was full of food and fun. Carolyn O’Neil did a great presentation of the issue, highlighting charity events and recognizing talented members of the Atlanta culinary community. An array of door prizes were given away as well. Gift certificates from Pastis, Wildfire, Sage Woodfire Grill, and restaurants excited lucky winners.

After the presentation, I was lucky enough to stay and dine with the rest of the Flavors staff. It is always so inspiring to be around these women. Besides John Haigwood, the magazine’s photographer and co-owner/founder, the staff is comprised of smart and talented women. All of them are so accomplished and willing to help me as I begin my career. Their passion for food and love of writing makes the magazine an amazing place to work. Being a part of this fantastic magazine assures me that I am on the right path to a great career in the culinary industry.

Amazing Appetizers

Lauren’s dad recently bought us a firepit for the house. Unfortunately, all of the rain and cold weather has limited our ability to make use of this fun new addition. Two nights ago it was nice enough to have a fire and invite a few friends over. The hostess in me got a little carried away and decided we couldn’t have people over unless we had hors d’oeuvres. Still on my Italian kick, I decided to make Pesto Bruschetta. The secret: make your own crositini!

Pesto Bruschetta
Yield: 30 pieces

Loaf French Bread
Olive Oil
Pesto (store-bought is great, I used Classico Traditional Basil Pesto)
4 Plum Tomatoes
Crumbled Goat Cheese
Balsamic Reduction*

To make the crostini, preheat the oven to 400. Slice the bread into ½ inch pieces. Drizzle with olive oil, bake 8-10 minutes or until crisp. Spread the pesto onto the crositini. Slice the tomatoes and cut slices in half so you have semi-circle pieces. Put tomatoes on top of pesto (2-3 semi circles each). Add a few pieces of crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle with balsamic reduction. Enjoy!

*To make balsamic reduction: heat 1 cup of balsamic vinegar until thick, about 7 minutes. Keep a close eye on this as it is easy to overcook.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pilates and Pasta

After an intense work out of Pilates legs and spin class, my roommate Jenn and I were ready for a hearty, but healthy dinner. We’ve been craving pasta lately -between planning our trip to Italy and reading the Italian Food Network Magzine issue- pasta was a must. Jenn found a great Bethenny Frankel (Real Housewives NYC) recipe: Low Fat Creamy Mushroom Pasta. With a few changes of our own, we made this simple but DELICIOUS dinner in less than 15 minutes!

We cut even more calories by using fat-free sour cream and “I can’t believe it’s not butter”. Sometimes the lack of fat makes of difference, but not in this pasta, the sauce was still just as thick and creamy as if we had used whole milk. We also cut out the truffle oil (one bottle was $14, I think I’ll pass…). We topped the dish with dried parsley instead of fresh and it was still scrumptious!

A great work out, good dinner, and relaxing evening made this a delightful experience that needs repeating!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Butter Makes it Better!

Only three weeks ago, I was walking down Bourbon Street, observing all New Orleans has to offer. Magicians, artists, dancers, and psychics come out every day to entertain the throngs of people visiting the city. Loud music roared from bars that never seem to close. It certainly is a one of a kind place. While we were there we ate at GW Fins, the reason I am writing this. Over 21 days later, I am still thinking of my fabulous dinner.

To start we had their sizzling oysters. They smoke the shells and then throw the raw oysters on as it is being plated. By the time the oysters reach the table they are cooked perfectly. Of all the oysters I ate while in New Orleans, these were by far the best. The smoky flavor eliminates the need for cocktail sauce, horseradish, and a saltine cracker. Then my meal came.

If I had to pick my last supper, this would almost take #1 (it’s a close second to Mom’s spaghetti of course!). I ordered the Parmesan Crusted Lemon Sole, topped with lump crab meat, crispy capers, and brown butter. Alongside came impeccably roasted asparagus. Everything worked. The fish was flaky and light with a delicious crunch from the parmesan. The brown butter truly brought the dish together, the combination of lemon, parmesan, and capers is so classic and simple. All of the flavors were beautifully highlighted, making this dish unforgettable.

In addition to topping my list of best all time dinners, this has also made me a bit obsessed with brown butter. Such a simple technique, yet so difficult to master! Perfect with pasta and fish, this is a skill worth learning. Known in French as beurre noir, this term is used to classify whole butter cooked until dark brown. This can then be flavored (but certainly can be left plain) with vinegar, lemon juice, capers, and parsley and served over fish, eggs, and vegetables.

Here’s How:

Heat a skillet on medium heat, add desired amount of butter that has been cut into tablespoon slabs. As the butter melts, whisk the butter constantly. Wait for the butter to turn a light tan color, then remove from heat. Allow the butter to cook off heat until a chestnut brown.

Add sage and walnuts to the butter serve over butternut squash. Top with parmesan cheese, and voile! You’ve got dinner!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Tom's Famous Fried Chicken

Last week, Rebecca celebrated her grandmother's life by making her famous fried chicken. I was lucky enough to get a personal lesson and learn the secrets behind this mouth-watering Southern favorite. Rebecca starts by soaking the butcher cut chicken in salt water. After draining the chicken, she seasons it with salt and pepper. Next we dredged the chicken in flour, she used a "pig tail" to place the chicken in the melted crisco. Using her grandmother's cast iron skillet, she fries the chicken to golden perfection. Check out Rebecca's blog reminiscing about Tom, her talented grandmother. For the full recipe for Tom's Famous Fried Chicken click here.

Greek Freak

Sororities have become my life. As Panhellenic president, I am constantly thinking Greek. I live in the Greek Life Office, I work with all Greek women, and I work to promote Greek life. Although the fast paced world of sorority life at UGA is a big part of my life, Greek influences have also entered my kitchen. After enjoying the most delicious Greek salad at Last Resort (my favorite Athens’ restaurant) I decided to make a spin off of my own. Hope you enjoy!

Greek Salad Pitas

1 cucumber (seeded and diced)
1/4 large red onion (chopped)
1 pint grape tomatoes (quartered)
1/2 cup kalamata olives (chopped)
1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts (chopped)
1/2 cup peppercinis (chopped)
1 tsp red chili flakes
4 oz container feta Cheese
1 tblsp fresh parsley (chopped)

For the Dressing:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Pita Bread

Mix together cucumber through parsley in medium size bowl. For the dressing, add to Tupperware container and shake until mixed well. Dress the vegetable mixture, and stir well. Microwave pitas for 30 seconds on high, or until warm. Cut pita in half, allowing 2 pockets to form. Stuff with mixture.

My New Favorite Thing

Yesterday I spent my morning reading Food Network Magazine cover to cover. This may be their best issue yet, themed the Italian issue. In only 30 short days I will be in Italy, enjoying every culinary experience possible! This magazine gave me a little glimpse into the delicious world I can’t wait to discover. I also found a new fabulous kitchen gadget in this issue, a boil buoy. When pasta water begins to boil, this little trinket begins to chime, how convenient! Now the phrase “a watched pot never boils” is irrelevant because the buoy eliminates the need to even watch the pot! So cool!


One of my favorite scenes in Runaway Bride is when Julia Roberts must decide on her favorite type of egg. Scrambled? Sunny-side-up? Poached? Well long story short, she finally decides on eggs benedict. But, she never tried deviled eggs. By the Prentice Hall Dictionary of Culinary Arts, this picnic delight consists of hard-boiled eggs where yolks are removed, mashed, seasoned with mayonnaise and other seasonings and then the mixture is returned to the egg white. So simple and so delicious, how could Julia not have at least tasted these?! Although considered an old-lady luncheon food, these devilish delights are perfect anytime!

Today, Rebecca and I made her Jalapeno Deviled Eggs. By following Rebecca’s detailed steps, I was able to boil the eggs to lovely perfection. Her trick is to put the eggs in cold water, bring the water to a boil, and then turn off the heat and let them cook in the water for 10 minutes. Then submerge them in cold water, and then they are ready to peel. Another tip from Rebecca is to use older eggs instead of fresh, this makes them easier to peel. Once I got to her house, we made the mixture with just a few ingredients: mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, jalapenos, and salt. These turned out way too good, to be this easy! The jalapenos add a nice kick that makes Rebecca’s egg unique from other deviled eggs. Typically sweet relish is added to the yolks to make them sweet and luscious. For me, I like the kick, after all they are called deviled eggs, they should be a little dangerous!

Rebecca and I took photographs of the eggs. Rebecca has experience styling food and showed me some interesting tips. She used pointed Q-Tips to clean yolk that was tarnishing the gleaming egg white. She also used angled spatulas to swirl the filling. Adding a few more chopped jalapenos was all it took to make the eggs picture perfect. Look for Rebecca’s recipe and photos on Menu Planner, coming soon!