Saturday, December 31, 2011

This Goat Cheese and Raspberry Stuffed Chicken Breast Wrapped in Proscuitto is NOT Playing Around.

When I woke up yesterday morning, I knew this was destined to become my dinner.  That rarely happens to me.  Often, I come home from work, boil some noodles and eat them with bottled pasta sauce and canned parmesan.  True story.  
But not this time.

Do you spy Sampson's butt?  

My good friend Jonna knows how much I enjoy cooking and got me an awesome spoon rest for Christmas as well as this Pampered Chef Raspberry Habanero Sauce.

The sauce was the inspiration for this dish.  I typically don't keep sauces around, so it was fun to dream up how to best use this one.
*If you don't have a sauce like this around, you could make something just as perfect for this dish by combining one small jar of seedless raspberry preserves with two tablespoons (or less depending on how hot you want it) chipotle in adobo sauce.  Perfectly sweet, smoky and spicy. The goat cheese is a great foil for the heat and makes everything all perfectly balanced and yum.

This dish is so simple, yet really elegant.  It reminds me of a grown up version of one of my favorite eats Mom and Dad used to make when I was growing up: cream cheese and chive stuffed chicken breast wrapped in bacon.  You can use the same method I'll outline below and switch up the ingredients to try this gem as well.  This is like the grown up version of my classic favorite.

Raspberry and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken with Prosciutto
3 or 4 medium chicken boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 oz. plain soft goat cheese (chevre)
1/3 cup spicy raspberry sauce (see note above)
4 thin strips prosciutto
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Toothpicks (for securing bundles)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Take a chicken breast and pound it out till it is an even thickness and thin enough to wrap completely around the filling you will put inside.  I used my empty coconut oil jar because I'm a professional.

Note the smashed pieces of raw chicken on the side of the jar.  Keepin' it real.
Divide your goat cheese into thirds or quarters, depending on how many chicken breasts you have.  I had three, so I did thirds.  Put one third of the cheese in the center of the pounded chicken breast.  Spoon a third (or quarter) of the sauce over the goat cheese.

Wrap the chicken around the fillings and secure it together by piercing the two ends of the meat together with a toothpick.  You might be able to skip this step if it sticks together with little effort.  Be careful to remove the toothpicks after cooking so you don't impale the roof of you mouth and treat yourself to an emergency room visit.  Thanks.
Repeat the pounding, filling and sealing process with all your chicken breasts.  Wrap a sweet li'l blanket of prosciutto around each stuffed breast before placing them in a casserole dish.  If you want to use two pieces of prosciutto per chicken breast, congratulate yourself on having a beautiful mind.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  I like a lot of pepper.

Place the stuffed and wrapped breasts in the oven for 20 minutes.  Flip.  Cook 20 more minutes on the other side until proscuitto is lightly browned and juices run clear.  This dish makes it's own gravy, kind of like Gravy Train Dog Food, but better, and totally meant for human consumption.  Eating it with rice to sop up the juices is a great idea.  In fact, it's the law.  I made a wild rice pilaf.

Wild Rice Pilaf
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 Tbsp garlic seasoning
Handful chopped parsely
1/4 bottle pilsner beer
2 tsp olive oil

Bring the rices, stock and butter to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cover.  Leave it alone for 50 minutes.  While that is working, saute your diced onion in the olive oil until translucent.  Add onion, garlic seasoning and beer to your rice during the last ten minutes or so of cooking.  Stir in parsley when ready to serve.

When your chicken is done, serve a piece over your rice and spoon some of that crazy good gravy over  both the rice and chicken.  You worked hard on dinner.  I give you permission to use bagged salad.  I sure did.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Easy Southwest Casserole

Oh, Christmas?  Yeah, about that... I'm over it.  I was absolutely sick the whole time.  From Christmas Eve Eve straight up through my stuffed up face this morning.  While I absolutely adored spending time with family and friends, I am ready for a new year.

Yesterday was a weird day.  Second day back at work, the least sick I had been in several days, it started off fine.  Lunchtime.  Enter moodiness, indecision and a strong craving for Mexican food.  I got in my car for my lunch break and began aimlessly driving around town until I landed very close to my house at one of the best Mexican places around: La Vaquita II.  I ate this:

All of it.  Enchiladas Poblanas en Mole- one chicken, one cheese, and some raw onions to foul my breath up for the rest of the day.  It was amazeballs.  Picture this moment: stuffy nosed loner redhead sitting with her back to the rest of the happily chatting Spanish speakers eating in the restaurant, scarfing down a full plate while the fluorescent bulbs highlight my loner status as I stuff my face in front of the huge storefront window.    Sexy.

The thing about Mexican food, is I can never get enough.  Ever.  So naturally, it's what's for dinner.  Casserole is what happens when I think I don't have any groceries and I want to get rid of random leftovers.   It's also so easy that I barely had to pay dinner any attention so I could watch copious amounts of Deadliest Catch get some cleaning done.  You can vary the ingredients with whatever you have in your fridge.  Salsa was on sale for $0.74 last time I went to the grocery store, so this made for a super cheap meal.  If you have a few more ingredients a a couple more minutes, you can make this casserole that has a little more kick.  I am posting the recipe exactly as I made it, but please use whatever you have and don't make a special trip for these ingredients.  For crying out loud, I topped a casserole containing pork with vegan "cheese".  Totally delicious.

Easy Southwest Casserole
1 cup jasmine rice
2 cups water
generous pinch kosher salt
1 1/2 small jars medium salsa (you can sub canned tomatoes with green chilies in a pinch)
1/2 pound grilled pork tenderloin (or cooked meat of your choice/omit meat to make vegan)
1 can black beans, drained
3 good glugs Mexican hot sauce (I use Valentina or Cholula)
1 Tbsp garlic seasoning
1 cup vegan "cheese shreds" (or organic cheese)
Fat free greek yogurt and cilantro for serving

Preheat oven to 350.  Cook rice:  Bring rice and water to a boil. Add salt, reduce heat to low, and cover for 15 minutes.  
Dump one whole jar of salsa in with the rice.  Dump in can of beans.  Dice up your meat.  Dump it.  Stir.
Season to taste with garlic seasoning and fresh ground pepper if desired.  Glug in some hot sauce.  Glug, glug.  Isn't that such a satisfying sound?  Mmm hmm.
Spread your mixture in an even layer into a casserole dish.  Sprinkle "cheese" shreds over the top evenly.  If you have tortilla chips, by all means crush them over the top of the cheese.  Dollop your remaining salsa over the whole mess and pop it in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the casserole is heated through.  Serve topped with fat free greek yogurt (or sour cream) and torn fresh cilantro.   Go back for seconds.

Best when enjoyed in the company of someone you love and not under fluorescent lighting.

Ideas for variations- add or substitute the following:
Chopped grilled chicken
Tortilla chips
Pinto beans
canned black olives
canned or fresh jalapenos
Veg-all or mixture of frozen veggies/veggies in danger of dying an ugly death in your fridge
Chives or green onions
Salsa Verde

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies

First of all, you should know that you can only make these cookies for people you love.  Because cookies that require chilling, rolling, and cookie cutters are only worth it for people you love.

That said, you should make these cookies.  You should make them on a night when you don't have a lot else going on, because they are going to take some time and you are going to make quite the mess, my little cookie queen (or king).

You should also be aware that when these cookies are implemented as a bargaining tool in a cookie exchange, they are both a blessing and a curse.
Blessing:  You get mad compliments.
Curse:  You don't want to give them away.  Blast, that buttery, maple goodness is so sneaky like that.

I found this recipe over at Smitten Kitchen.  This woman is the heat, no lie.  She has performed a great miracle and has achieved a lofty goal.  A goal that I aspire to.  This snazzy lady makes her living by literally rolling out of bed, cooking whatever she feels like at that particular juncture in time and blogging about it.  And she's worked hard to get there.  Rock on, Deb.  Live the dream.

Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies
Ever-so-lightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, at room temperature (I used Plugra)
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (Grade B makes for an explosion of maple flavor, but use Grade A in a pinch)
1 large egg yolk
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon kosher salt

You know what?  "They" say you should bake with unsalted butter.  I never do, probably never will.  I think it tastes more buttery with the salt, thank-you-very-much.  Do what you feel.

Use a stand mixer (if you have one and are obsessed with it like me) to combine butter and sugar with the paddle attachment until fluffy.  Add egg yolk.  Drizzle in maple syrup.  Lick cup measure. What?  Sorry.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, salt and nutmeg.  Add flour mixture into butter mixture, just until combined.  Divide your crumbly dough into 4 balls, wrap each in plastic wrap, chill in the fridge for at least two hours, or overnight.  Don't skip this step even though you're tempted.  I have skipped this step a million and a half times, and then I pout about why I can't roll out my dough and make pretty shapes.  Cry baby.

Preheat your oven to 350 and line at least a couple baking sheets with parchment paper.  If you use wax paper instead, you'll set your ever-loving house on fire.  True story.

Flour your very clean counter top or kitchen table with a handful of flour.  Keep the flour handy so the dough doesn't stick to the table, your hands, or your rolling pin.  Yes, you're going to need a rolling pin.  Don't have one?  Use an empty wine bottle, you lush.  Take one of your four doughballs out of the fridge.  Unwrap.  Plop in flour.  Beat the living daylights out of it with your rolling pin until it sweetly submits.  Roll out your dough about 1/8 inch thick and cut fun little shapes out.  If you don't have cookie cutters you are a terribly boring person, you can use the mouth of a jar to cut perfect little circles.  Cut cookies go on the parchment and into the oven for 8 minutes.  For smaller cookies, watch them and maybe take them out at 7 minutes, depending on how browned you want your cookies.  Ball up your dough scraps and wrap them and refrigerate them for after you have used up your initial dough balls.  When your cookies are done, remove the batch from the oven and slide the whole sheet of parchment and cookies off the pan so your pan can cool and be reused for another batch.  If you have cooling racks, use them now.  If you are like me and you don't have cooling racks, ask for some for Christmas.

Confession time.  I got so sick of all that leftover dough (that I had already worked and thus was more pliable than I wanted) I threw out at least a handful of it at the end.  By the Beard of Zeus, I already had like 5 dozen cookies!  Remember, there's no judgement here.  I won't tell the baking police, I promise.  Take that last batch out of the oven, clean your flour coated kitchen filled with destruction and cookies, and go have a glass of eggnog with a cookie.  You deserve it.

And how did that cookie exchange go?  I think I came out on top with some pretty good loot (and some of my leftover maple cookies I secretly hoarded).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing: A Tale of Love and Funk

I like to eat fowl smelling things.  So sue me.
Tempt me with some anchovies, oh yesss.  Woo me with your deviled eggs and I'm yours.  Tease me with your Gorgonzola, Roquefort and Cambembert, and I'm at your mercy.
When it comes to stinky, indulgent delight, it's hard to beat homemade blue cheese dressing.  My dad started this new-ish tradition for our Christmas gathering on my mom's side.  Instead of turkey, ham or more traditional holiday fare, we go for the gusto with some variation of grilled beef (standing rib roast this year), shrimp, and salad with homemade blue cheese dressing.  I look forward to all of it every year, but especially that blue cheese.  Let's make it a tradition for you too.

Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing
1 medium wedge danish blue cheese
1 cup mayonnaise (I use Dukes because I'm Southern through and through)
1 1/2 cup fat free greek yogurt (so we can have some dessert too)
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
1 good dashes hot sauce
1 scant Tbsp mustard (I used horseradish dijon, don't use yellow mustard)
1.5 tsp garlic seasoning
Juice of 1 lemon half
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Kosher salt to taste

In a large bowl, combine mayo with yogurt.  Crumble in your blue cheese, slicing it if you need to in order to make crumbling easier.  Use a spoon to stir in the cheese and break it up into smaller pieces.  We're going for big chunks and small crumbles for flavor and texture.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste.  If you want to add a dash of cayenne, we could totally be best friends.  Let this sit in the fridge for at least four hours, but preferably overnight so the flavors can get to know one another.  You did it!  Congrats!

This dressing makes the simplest of salads amazing and satisfying.  Thanks, fat.  I love how you do that.  Now that I ate that for lunch, don't you think it's okay if I eat like four of the Maple Nutmeg Butter Cookies I am making for tomorrow's cookie exchange?  Too late, I already did.
More on that story... after the break.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Eggnog Tiramisu and Sunday in Pictures

Eggnog Tiramisu loves you.

I made this for you.  Okay, so I really made it for our family Christmas gathering on my mom's side, but I totally thought of you while making it.  And the best part- it's so simple to make, yet totally elegant!  Eggnog and Tiramisu become their best selves when the two become one.  But more on that later.  Here's how yesterday looked:
Family coziness
We obviously know how to tear into some delicious appetizers.  Mmm.  Shrimp.
Ian made his signature mashed potatoes with goat cheese and rosemary, which were stunning.  Watch him work.

Dad was the star of the show with his succulent (ew! I can't believe I just used that word) standing rib roast grilled masterfully on his Weber Kettle Grill.

Juicy Vittles

Fire pit for keeping roasty toasty while sipping a hot toddy.
Today's hot toddy of choice was spiced cider with black spiced rum.  Speaking of rum, you're gonna need some to make this killer dessert.

Eggnog Tiramisu
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 cups organic whole milk
3 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp butter

Espresso Soak
1/2 cup black spiced rum (The Kraken is what I used.  My favorite!)
3 Tbsp espresso powder
1/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar

1 package almond cookies, crushed
1 handful Slivered or chopped almonds (optional)
1 whole angel food cake (you could sub out lady fingers if you so desire)

Whipped Cream
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup frangelico (hazelnut liquor)
1 tsp vanilla

This looks like a lot of ingredients, but it's actually really simple and all about layering.  Promise.  Let's start by making pudding from scratch.  This is one of the first things I really remember making by myself and being proud of.  I was thirteen-ish?  My mom had this checkered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (your mom probably has one too) and it made pudding from scratch pretty simple business.  If you leave the nutmeg out of this eggnog custard, BAM!  You have vanilla pudding.  Don't buy Jello.  I love you too much to let that happen to you ever again.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine milk and sugar over medium heat.  In a separate small container, stir in a little milk from the pan into the cornstarch until there are no lumps.  Pour it all back in the pan.  Stir frequently until the milk is "scalded."  This means there will be little bubbles all around the edges where the milk touches the pan, and it will smell cooked.  In the meantime, crack and lightly beat your eggs in a bowl.  Keep at the ready. When your milk is scalded, remove the pan from the heat.  Add a few tablespoons of the hot milk mixture in a slow and steady stream into your eggs.  Beat continuously while doing this.  We're just bringing the eggs up to temperature so they don't curdle when we put them in the milk.  After you've incorporated a little of the milk into the eggs, slowly pour a steady stream of the egg mixture into the pan with the milk, mixing continuously to avoid curdling.  This is called tempering your eggs.  No biggie.
Cook for two to three minutes more over medium heat while stirring.  When the mixture has thickened into a loose pudding consistency, remove from the heat.  Stir in vanilla and butter until melted it.  Glossy, no?  Grate in your nutmeg and stir.  Set aside.  Try not to eat the whole batch.  But definitely eat some!  You could stop here and have a comforting and delicious dessert to eat alone, or serve company in some fancy glasses with a ginger snap on the side.
Eggnog Custard

Make your espresso soak first.  Combine water, rum (or liquor of your choice), sugar, and espresso powder in a container that is easy to pour stuff out of.  Whisk until sugar dissolves.  In the serving bowl you'll be using to present your lovely dish (I used a large clear bowl so folks could see my luscious layers), line the bottom of the dish with some chunks of angel food cake.  We're talking a layer maybe an inch thick of cake on the bottom.  Drizzle half your espresso soak over the cake so it soaks it up.  It's okay if it's not even steven.  Those juices will sink in and redistribute.  Spread half your eggnog custard over the now very brown cake layer.  Sprinkle 1/3 of your crushed cookies over custard layer.  Repeat: cake, espresso soak, custard, cookies.  Time to make the whipped cream.  (Most fun step?)
Whipped Cream Topping
In a cold, clean bowl, use a hand mixer or stand mixer to whip the whole pint of whipping cream into soft peaks.  Add your liquor, vanilla, and sugar.  Whip to stiff peaks.  I like to use my immersion blender with the whisk attachment for making whipped cream.  It literally takes seconds and makes me stand in wonder like a five year old how it magically makes whipped cream happen so fast.  Taste to make sure it's sweet enough for your liking, but don't make it too terribly sweet.  That's part of the elegance of this dessert, is the perfect amount of sweetness complimenting each layer.  Spread the whole lot of it over your layered creation.  Top with the remaining 1/3 of your crushed cookies, and with your handful of crushed or slivered almonds if you choose to use them.  Let this sit overnight or at least for several hours while the flavors marry and the custard soaks and sets the dessert.  Scoop or slice and serve.
Once more, just to tempt you to make this baby

About this dessert
I have to take a minute to tell you I am super proud of this one.  I was inspired by a vegan recipe for Pumpkin Tiramisu and thought the seasonal flavor twist was brilliant.  But I wasn't all about combining chocolate with pumpkin for some reason.  When I thought about eggnog and espresso playing off one another with crunchy almonds, I had to make it and find out if this crazy combo would work.  I can't wait to make it again.  Whether you make the custard or go all the way with the Tiramisu, I hope you'll let me know how it turns out.  Merry Christmas in your mouth.

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Meaty Minestrone with Beet Greens: It'll Cure What Ails Ye

Been in a funk.
Know what I mean?  I mean come hope so slap worn out that you eat Chinese take-out two nights in a row.  Not something you want to really pontificate about on your food blog, right?  It happens.

But, HARK!  Soup can help bring one out of the funkiest of funks, and it's good for warding off those nasty little snot viruses popping up from here to kingdom come.  So I made some, and so should you.
The good news?  This soup is so good for you and so easy.  The bad news?  I scarfed it down so eagerly that I forgot to take a picture.  Good thing there are leftovers I can show you later.

Here's a few good rules for cooking up soups and stirring your brew:

1.  Use your favorite big pot, preferably one that has a heavy bottom.
2.  When in doubt, a little booze makes it better.
3.  Always, always use a wooden spoon

I'm so serious about this.

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 links hot turkey italian sausage, removed from casing
2 quarts homemade turkey or chicken stock (or boxed if you don't have homemade stock)
1 large yellow onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 bottle beer (lager or ale works great)
1 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 jar whole roasted red pepper/pimiento in its packing water, diced
1 can white beans
1 large can crushed canned tomatoes with basil
2 cups dried pasta noodles (small shapes like twists or elbows)
2 monstrous handfuls of chopped beet greens or baby spinach
2 tsp dried basil
2 bay leaves
3 tsp garlic seasoning blend (or just 2 tsp garlic powder if you don't have some sort of blend)
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
black pepper to taste

In your large pot over medium heat, add olive oil.  Add onions and garlic.  Stir so they don't brown, but just start to become translucent.  Add your meat.  Drain grease after it cooks out a bit.  Keep stirring with that wooden spoon.  You can add mushrooms here if you wanna be like that.  Totally up to you.
Cook onion, garlic and meat mixture until you start to see a little browning starting to happen on the bottom of the pot.  This is where all the magic soup flavor comes from, so don't be scared to let this happen.  Once you've got a few little brown bits and smudges going on, you're going to need some help scraping up that stuff and incorporating it into the mix.  Enter beer.  It's so multi-talented, no?  Pour about a third of a beer in the mix, and use some elbow grease to get those bits up and into the mix while the beer cooks down.

Bad picture, good beer.

The alcohol will cook out and leave you with intensified yum flavor.  When the beer has reduced, stir in the can of tomatoes.  This will definitely stop all your browning and give you a minute to drain your beans and dice up the contents of that jar of pimiento.  I use the Goya brand because it's cheap, easy to find, and tasty.

Add in your pimiento and drained beans.  You should have some thick looking stew on your hands.  Good job!  Add cayenne, bay leaves, basil, and garlic seasoning.  If you don't have a seasoning blend you use, you really should try a few.  It can be such an amazing secret weapon in your soups, sauces, or whatever.  My weapon of choice comes from Costco in a giant container.  I don't think it can be beat.
Wait for it....

Wait for it...

It says "spread" on the bottle, but it's a powder.  I use it as a seasoning, but I'm sure if you make it into a spread it's bangin'.

Add your stock and your pasta and let it simmer until the pasta is tender.  Stir in your beet greens until they are wilted and well incorporated.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese and croutons if you must.  Bring some to your mom if she's sick.

This soup looks like a lot of ingredients, but it actually comes together pretty quickly and makes a heap of soup.  I'm sure it's even better the next day with a grilled cheese faithfully by its side.  I'll take one for the team and test this hypothesis for dinner.

So long funk!  Hello, cozy.

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Sweet Potato Fries and Scenes from the Weekend

O Christmas tree, O Christmas Tree, how sappy are your branches!  So maybe that's not how that sweet li'l anthem goes, but it's certainly how Christmas tree decorating goes for me.
This is largely due to the fact that Jeremy is what some might call fanatical about Christmas light placement, distribution and saturation.  As long as the lights are being put on when he is ready to do it, that's really his problem.  Well call me whiny, demanding, or whatever you want, but I wanted the lights on NOW.  So after he'd spent a good hour putting lights on the top 1/8th of the tree, but took a break to light the grill, I picked up the slack.
And so it begins...

"You have to do it just right.  Wrapping each individual branch up and back to the core, moving to the left, from front to back."  These were my instructions.  Let's cut to 15 minutes later.  Jeremy is grilling, I am sweating, covered up to my elbows in tree sap, and have what I presume is a very fowl look plastered across my face.  Cheerful Christmas music is tinkling in the background and all of a sudden, I hear myself exclaim at the top of my lungs, a very ugly and decidedly un-Christmas-y word.  I get down off the chair on which I am standing, turn off the Christmas music and curl into a ball on the couch, glass of wine in hand, and frown firmly on face.  Consider this my public confession that I was being a total whiny baby.  After Jeremy came back inside, saw me on the couch and had a good laugh, he explained to me that I could do the Christmas lights my way and he was sure they would be just beautiful.  Well the top 1/4th of our tree is just that.  Beautiful.  As for the rest of the house, Christmas exploded all over it.  Boxes, bags, tissue paper and glitter make for a nice little Christmas sheen all over the floor.

On to more successful endeavors...
Like dinner.  I found some beautiful lamb shoulder chops at Whole Foods and marinated them in some citrus juices, olive oil, fresh garlic, rosemary, and oregano.

Jeremy grilled those babies up while I made some Garlicky Kale and sweet potato fries.

You can make these too.  It's a cinch.  These are my favorite side to make in the summer with some homemade grilled burgers with all the trimmings.  I like mine savory with a good organic ketchup, but cinnamon sugar works great if your into sweet sweet potato fries, sweetie.

Sweet Potato Fries
1 large sweet potato
1 to 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (if you're making a sweet version, you might try coconut oil instead)
1 Tbsp rib rub or cajun seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel sweet potato, cut in half lengthwise, and cut each half into fry shapes.  The thinner you cut them, the crispier they'll get, so you want to cut them thin, but not paper thin.  Try to cut them about the same size so they'll cook evenly.  Toss them in the olive oil to coat.  Sprinkle with the seasonings of your choice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  (This doesn't mean taste the raw potatoes...)
Cook 20 minutes on one side.  Take them out and flip them over.  Cook 15 to 20 minutes more on the other side, or until fries are crisp and browned to your liking.  Sweet potatoes are incredibly healthy, and this will definitely quench any french fry craving you have, so could this be the perfect food?  You tell me.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Blueberry Pancakes

Want to know how many times a month I crave pancakes?
I don't want to talk about it.  It's a lot.
Instead of shoveling out 8 bucks at a restaurant for some of the cheapest comfort food out there, I cooked some up this weekend.  Because I'm cheap, and because I know I can control the quality of ingredients that go into these hot cakes.   Griddle cakes.  Ew.  Does "hot cakes" make you cringe a little?  It should.  They're pancakes.
And in this case, they're blueberry, whole wheat, and vegan.  Oh, and delicious.

Blueberry Pancakes
Adapted from Peas and Thank You's recipe for Apple Cinnamon Pancakes

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup Sugar in the Raw
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 Tbsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups almond milk (unsweetened plain or vanilla)
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Earth Balance vegan margarine and Grade B Maple syrup for serving

Combine all dry ingredients.  Stir in almond milk, just until combined.  Over mixing your batter will make tough pancakes, so try to avoid that.  Fold in blueberries so they are evenly distributed in your batter.  I used a large mixing spoon to slop batter into my cast iron skillet heated on medium, but you could use a 1/3 or 1/4 cup measure depending on how big you like your pancakes.

I like a good buttery crust on my pancakes, so just before I drop some batter into the pan, I will add about a teaspoon of Earth Balance to fry it up in.  You don't have to do this, but you totally should.  Cook the pancake on the first side until you see little bubbles forming and popping on the surface and the edges turning golden brown.  Flip it.  Cook a couple more minutes until the other side is golden.         

 You're going to cook all of these one at a time unless you have a totally awesome large griddle or electric skillet, so it can take a little while.  To keep those cooked pancakes hot while you cook the rest of the batter, keep them on a plate in the oven with your oven set on its lowest or "warm" setting.  Here's a peek at my state of the art and impeccably clean oven.  Don't judge.
After they're all golden, cooked and gorgeous, serve them up with some warmed blueberries or some maple syrup.  Grade B is has less of a glycemic impact than Grade A, in case you care about that sort of thing.  I also happen to think it tastes more maple-icious.

A little magazine reading on the couch, a ponytail to hide my unshoweredness, and a couple cups of coffee later, I'm ready to go pick out this year's Christmas tree.  Feeling fa-la-la.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Thanksgiving Flavors, The Remix: Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries

Like we've discussed before, I'm a holiday person.  The minute it strikes midnight on November 1st, I become the most Melody version Melody can possibly be and I enter my element.  Strap on some jingle bells, power up with some eggnog, and tightly clutching pumpkin in one hand and cranberries in the other, brace yourself- it's time to get festive.

I borrowed this recipe from Tracy of Shutterbean and made it my own.  Tracy is Joy the Baker's BFF.  And therefore, I want to be BFF with both of them always and forever.  But you already knew that.  Anyway, this recipe tastes like all the festive holiday flavors you love wrapped into one amazingly healthy, comforting and delicious package.  What could be better?

Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 large or 2 small apples, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 and 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 and 1/2 Tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
3/4 tsp curry powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper*
1 Tbsp orange zest*
1 and 1/2 Tbsp Sugar in the Raw or brown sugar
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste


Preheat your oven to 400 and get ready to do some mad chopping.  Confession:  I like chopping things so much that sometimes I cook something for the sole purpose of satisfying my therapeutic chopping needs and desires.  This is the perfect time to satisfy that need.

Let's get that butternut out of the way first.  You could use two large sweet potatoes if you prefer, but the butternut is really worth it.  Cut it in half across so it's easier to deal with.  Cut the half with seeds in it in half lengthwise and scoop them all out with a spoon.  Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, peel the skin off the whole thing and cut it into cute little 1/2 inch cubes.  This is not an exact science.  As you chop each vegetable, start tossing it onto a shallow baking dish or roasting pan lined with foil to prevent extreme messiness.

Now Brussels Sprouts.  You're going to want to trim the ends a good bit so they're not tough.  After that, peel off the outer layer and split them in half.  Done and done.  Onion.  Apple.  Cranberries.
Time to make the dressing.  Did you know that salad dressing is the easiest ever to make?  That's really all this is.  Find a jar or container with a resealable lid.  I used sweet li'l old jam jar.  In the jar, combine the curry powder, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and cinnamon, cayenne and orange zest, if you're using those optional ingredients.  I REALLY wanted to use orange zest but didn't have any.  If you have it, please use it.  Shake it like a polaroid picture.

Drizzle the mixture over the pretty chopped stuff and use your hands to toss.  Aren't you so glad to get this moisturizing treat for those dry winter hands?  Lovely.  Smooth into an even layer and sprinkle the sugar evenly over the mix.  You don't need to mix in the sugar.  Put it in the oven for 20 minutes.  Stir gently.  Back in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

While your veggies are working in the oven, you might want to prepare some couscous, wild rice, or quinoa on the stovetop, using chicken or vegetable broth instead of water.  Prepare according to package directions.  I used quinoa in some homemade turkey stock.  When the veggies are done, serve yourself a heap of them over your grain of choice.  I was feeling super cozy, so I drizzled the tiniest amount of grade B maple syrup (less sweet than your average bear) over the whole thing.  Yum.

I used to be afraid of curry or cooking anything with curry.  How dumb was that?  It's delicious.
What are you hesitant to try?  Afraid of?

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Roasted Chickpeas Two Ways: Chai Some Chickpeas and Hummus Deconstruced

Here's something to add some fun to your life!  Or your salad, party, what-have-you.
Did you know you can roast chickpeas?!  Oh you most certainly can and should.  Even if you think you don't like them.  This magical recipe turns slop from a can into chic (or should I say chick...) snack, topping or bar munch.  This recipe was inspired by my trusty Peas and Thank You cookbook I told you about a while back.  I would double this recipe if I were you.  Just sayin.'

Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chickpeas
Juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons or limes (I used limes because I didn't have lemons.  It was legit.)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1.5 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 can rinsed and drained chickpeas
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375.  Combine all ingredients and marinate for at least an hour, or a couple if you have time.  Spread chickpeas evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, stirring frequently to make sure they get nice and evenly crispy and brown.  These taste like hummus deconstructed, if you can imagine.

Want some dessert?  Try this next recipe over a salad with dried cranberries and pecans with a nice sweet vinaigrette or a splash of good aged balsamic vinegar.  Or eat them right off the cookie sheet.

Chai Some Chickpeas
1 can chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry
1.5 tsp garam masala
1 Tbsp vegetable or olive oil
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
Light brown sugar (optional)

Combine all ingredients.  Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 25 minutes, stirring frequently.  Keep your eye on these even closer.  They tend to need more stirring to prevent burning since they have a higher sugar content.  Sprinkle a little brown sugar on these when they are hot out of the oven for a more indulgent treat.

Important storage tip: Make sure these have cooled completely before storing in an airtight container.  Otherwise, they will become a little chewy and odd.  I know this from experience, and so does everyone else who ate them at Thanksgiving.

Speaking of giving thanks, I am pretty thankful for this scoundrel.  What are thankful for this year?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Healthy Addiction? Garlicky Kale to Your Post-Thanksgiving Rescue

I'm not one of those people you're going to find saying, "oh, I'm SOOO addicted to exercise".  That doesn't mean I can't dream about it.  You're far more likely to find me eating some combination of bread and stuff that melts and saying "oh, I'm SOOO addicted to (insert bread and fat of the day)".  But in the past several months I've had a breakthrough.  I developed a healthy addiction!  It's kale.

Wait!  Don't leave!  Once I too was like you, thinking that kale, in all its ultra deep green roughness, could only be consumed comfortably after it had the Satan cooked out of it and had been covered in some sort of high sodium or high fat sauce to mask its overly healthy and virtuous taste.  And then, as it is known to do, Whole Foods (better known to some as Whole Paycheck) came to the rescue with its salad bar brimming with vegetables and toppings galore.  Of all the delectable delicacies in the salad bar, the garlicky kale was the crown jewel.  And then I was so cruelly betrayed.  I would sneak away to Whole Foods for lunch to have a rendezvous with G.K., and it was nowhere to be found.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, and I'm making garlicky kale from scratch.

Lucky for me, Brittany over at Eating Bird Food had the same addiction and did most of the leg work.  I doubled her recipe and doubled my pleasure.  The awesome thing about this salad aside from its delicious and addictive properties, is that it's even better the next day.  Definitely the only dressed salad I know of that can hold its own in the fridge a second day.  If you like Caesar salad, you're going to love this.

Garlicky Kale
(Recipe slightly adapted from Eating Bird Food)

1 bunch kale
1 1/2 Tbsp tahini
1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Bragg's Liquid Aminos (sounds weird but it's like soy sauce or tamari.  Sub tamari in a pinch)
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (an ingredient definitely worth stocking in your kitchen)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Sesame seeds to taste for garnish (optional)

1.  Remove tough stems from the kale and tear into bite size pieces.
2.  Combine all the remaining ingredients except kale and sesame seeds in a blender (magic bullet is awesome for this) until smooth.  Pour over kale.
3.  Use your clean hands (sorry, this is going to be your best way to do this) to evenly distribute the dressing and rub it into the leaves, like you're giving it a well deserved massage.  Relax, kale, you're feeling a little stiff.
4.  Wash your grubby hands, weirdo, and shake some sesame seeds on your delectable health food before you start shoveling it in your pie hole like it was bread with melty fat.  If you can manage to wait to eat and let this sit in the fridge for an hour or two, you'll love it even more.  If not, strap on the ol' feedbag.

I like to make a meal of this when I know I'm eating pizza (bread and melty fat) for dinner later that day.  It's all about balance, or so they say.

This is great for impressing friends that think they don't like healthy food.  You sneaky devil.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Part 3 - MasterChef Casting Calls Wrap Up

The judges came back in the room after their deliberations.
"We are going to call three names.  If we call your name, that doesn't mean you made it.  If we don't call your name, that doesn't mean you didn't make it.  That sounds like a line, doesn't it?  But it's really not.  In each city, for each season, we go back through applications and notes and make phone calls, so please don't discount yourself.  With that said, please hang around if your name is..."

1.  ZZ Top look-alike that played harmonica and sang like he was at American Idol tryouts
2.  Jim Schmim
3.  Not Melody Ann

I shook hands with the roofer and lawyer that were on either side of me, we tasted each other's dishes, and I left with a huge grin on my face.  Because I did the best I could do, got awesome feedback, stepped out of the box and did something outside my comfort zone, and had an amazing experience.

Time to go grab a beer and finally exhale.  We walked down to River Street and headed for Vic's on the River for lunch.

For lunch, I had a Caesar salad that was so amazing I stuffed it in my gob before I could photograph it.  Amazing lemony white anchovies, biscuit croutons and parmesan crisps that when combined created a whole so much greater than its parts, and an excellent and refreshing foil to the rich and wonderful french onion soup.  Washed down with a Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout, and I'm a happy girl.   We capped it off with a trip to River Street Sweets and munched on some pralines on the waterfront.  Nap time.  I had to rest up (no sleep, remember)  before we headed out to dinner and our ghost tour.  I'd like to go ahead and give Lori her due credit for coming up with this idea.  I'd also like to point out I am a huge wimp and have no idea why I agreed to do such a thing as a ghost tour in the world's most haunted city.  But at this point, with a belly full of good food and tryouts under my belt, I laid in bed still blissfully unaware of what awful things awaited me.

The alarm goes off, we all get dressed for our fanciest dinner of the night and head out haphazardly without reservation or reservations.

Our destination of choice would have been The Olde Pink House, but there were no reservations available, and the wait likely would have been hours.  We walked past a beautiful restaurant with amazing smells and charm oozing out everywhere.  Let's eat here!  It's the Olde Pink House, duh.  We went in anyway to ask about wait times.  A handsome man held the door for us, walked up to the host and cancelled his reservation, exclaiming that instead he would like to offer his place "to these lovely ladies."  And that's how we were immediately seated at the best seat in the house.  The Pink House, to be exact.  I didn't get pictures here, because it was just inappropriate, ya know.  It was one of those perfect moments that a picture couldn't sum up when we started in on our cornbread fried oyster appetizer with a fresh basil aioli.  A large group was seated at the table next to us as we ordered our entrees.  I of course had to go with Duck Confit with Vegetable Crepes which was amazeballs.

"That girl at the table next to us looks like Eva Mendez," Lori said.  I looked over, amused, and slowly my amusement turned to panic.  And I'm sweating.  It couldn't be.  There in all their LA-stained glory were all the producers, judges and food critics from this morning.  We ordered a bottle of wine, and I freaked out as Lori and Ashley planned intricate schemes to get their attention.  Their themes varied, but their plans generally stuck to reliable tactics like forced tripping, yelling obvious questions in their general direction, and other reasonable methods.  We were almost late for our ghost tour, so we asked for some to-go cups for our bottle of wine (remember that crazy open container law) and started to head out.  I walked by their table, told them I enjoyed cooking for them today, and hoped they enjoyed the rest of their stay in Savannah.  They were over the top nice, and when Lori kept motioning and mouthing, "call her," behind my head, the sweet Latin American Studies major asked again for my name.  They remembered my dish and again said they enjoyed it, and I walked out completely elated.  Now if they'd just give me that call to come to LA...  :)

At this point, we were legitimately late for our ghost tour, and were sprinting down the streets, wine bottle in hand, looking for our meetup point.  We found our party and were congratulated for our open-container-savvy ways.  First stop was a graveyard.  I was totally not scared at this point.  Our guide, Tobias, told us to be sure to take pictures, and don't delete them until we get a good look on our computers.  Silly ghost tour, man.  It turns out Tobias not only owned this company, but he is actively involved in research with such reputable paranormal researchers as The Rhine Institute.  We went to the hospital where mental patients and yellow fever patients were treated and buried in mass unmarked graves.  Many were buried alive due to the coma-like state that was characteristic of yellow fever.  I started feeling pretty bad right about here.  Lori, Ashley and I were debating leaving the tour.  It was getting to be a bit much.

The worst was yet to come.  We headed to the slave trade square, where families were separated and humans were sold like household appliances.  The air was cold and thick here, and tragedy and fear were tangible.  Without going into too much detail, there was bad energy here, and we were ready to move on.  The tour reached a terrifying finale when at the last uninhabited house, we were given the awful and heartbreaking story of what had happened in this place. As the worst details were divulged, the lights in the top floor suddenly went out.  They keep lights on in the house to discourage vandalism and curious ghost hunters.  Downstairs lights remained on, and everyone seemed to be ready to head back to more populated areas.  Timers, maybe?  It was 11:56; maybe they were set for that random time, or maybe the timers were fast...  Whatever, it was time to go.  What had been Savannah's charming landscape of beautiful old trees and Spanish moss was now more terrifying than it was beautiful, even in the daylight of the next morning.  We all three slept in the same bed that night with no sleep.  Notice a trend here?  Good thing we hadn't loaded the pictures on Ashley's computer yet.  (Every single picture is full of these large, mysterious orbs.  No biggie.)   Lesson here- don't go searching for darkness.  You will surely find it.  I regret the tour, and will certainly not be going out looking for ghosts again.

The next morning, we decided to grab some brunch before heading home.  We also decided a sack of 24 Krystal Burgers would be a fitting appetizer.  We were clearly thinking rationally.  Breakfast on the beach sounded perfect, so we headed for Tybee Island.  We picked Fannie's on the Beach, which offered amazing brunch with these views.

Ashley ordered some mighty tasty fish tacos, and Lori and I ordered the Holy Grail of Eggs Benedict:  Two grit cakes topped with two poached eggs and hollandaise, swimming in a pool of pan fried garlic shrimp and butter.  Exhibit A.

It came with a toasted English muffin and a gorgeous variety of fresh fruit.  Seriously?!  Oh, yeah.  After a stroll on the beach, we headed back to North Carolina three very happy girls.

So I still haven't heard anything, but trying out for MasterChef was one of the best experiences of my life.  It made me more confident in my cooking skills and more ready than ever to pursue my passions.  I can't believe the overwhelming amount of support I received from family, friends and strangers.   So Thank you! I can't wait to try out again!  Until then, this redhead is staying in the kitchen, and telling you all about it.

It's hard to sum up the whole experience in these three blog posts, so if I've left anything out, or if you have any questions about any of it, you know where to find me!  Cheers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Part Two- Behind the Scenes at MasterChef auditions

After pulling into the parking lot at Savannah Tech Community College, I stalled a little, assessing the sitch.  Not as many cars as I expected.  Lots of people toting some really extra large coolers and heavy loads.  I had my little satchel, lunchbox cooler and thermos.  Hmmm.  We walked through the double doors and my trusty companions grabbed us a table and chairs while I waited in line and registered.  I was contestant number 120, and I handed over my registration packet complete with hot sauce splotches.  The lady issuing numbers kept interrupting herself as she instructed me and said, "what?"  Like I had interrupted her while I stood there silent.  It was strange, and she was strange.  But probably an awesome person in real life when she wasn't processing registration packets.

We took our seats and watched ALL sorts of people file in and settle into line.

Oooh!  Here's Beefcake.  He was destined to be our bestie for the coming hour or two.  He made lasagna with homemade noodles and bechamel sauce and was really nervous.  And beefy.  I hope he made callbacks, but have no idea.

Look!  Here we are waiting.  Ash on the left, me on the right and the sweet, but ghostly, face of pallor right smack in the middle.  Poor old girl was feeling like a squashed beetle.

Check out this dude.  Yeah, that dude way in the back of this fuzzy picture standing behind his table and being a total cheater.  Although the rules very specifically state you can not bring any heating devices and your dish should be cooked ahead of time, he prepared what I think was chicken marsala on two gas stoves in the middle of the room in front of a very hungry, anxious crowd full of nerves and critical stares. He made sure plenty were watching when he cracked his eggs with one hand and loudly chopped his herbs.  Don't be that guy.

An hour into the wait, my number was called.  I filed in line with my group of 19 others and we were led into the room of uncertainty as our peers clapped, hooted and hollered.  It was a fun feeling, like starting a big race.  As we entered the room with the judges, we were given a space on some tables that were arranged in a horseshoe.  I'd say it was approximately 2 feet square.  "Put your stuff down and move over," said the really hot and skinny LA cool girl being the boss of us.  "Get all your stuff out, but don't open or start plating anything."  Well that's nice, it makes it easier.  

"Ready?  Have everything plated in three minutes when I say go.  After I say stop, get your hands off the table and don't touch ANYTHING.  If you touch your paperwork after I say stop, you'll be disqualified.  It's my property now, so make sure it's on the table.  Three... two... one...  GO."

Hands shaking, I ripped a banana leaf in half, marveling how blessed I was that it made a clean and beautiful tear, laid it across my rectangular platter, and tore three beautiful leaves off my hydroponically grown lettuce.  One, two, three lettuce cups in a row.  Thermos of meat opened, I clumsily forked out a couple tablespoons on each leaf.  I opened my pickled onions, filling the room with the very distinct smell, and I felt like vinegar was everywhere.  A few onions on top so my pork is pretty in pink.  20 seconds left.  Mango salsa on top of each, no time for cilantro, wipe the plate, "STOP."

A cool looking hipster girl came by my table.  "Oh those are so cute!  I'm not a judge, but I really want one.  They're so pretty!  Can I have one?  What are they?  Oooh, how do you know how to cook Mayan?  Awesome!  I'm a Latin American Studies major too!  Well thanks!"  She walked away and whispered something to the producer.  Here comes the food critic:
"This is cochinita pibil?  I'm from LA, so I eat a lot of authentic Mexican food."  He takes a bite.  No expression.  He looks at me.  "And this is very good.  So tender."  Another bite.  "And this mango salsa, what are the peppers?  Ah, habanero.  No wonder the heat is starting to get to me."  He is sweating through his shirt, but that happened before he got to my table.  Uh oh.  Was it too hot!  No way!  I tasted it this morning and it was barely spicy.  He must be a wimp, but at least he was a nice one.  Eek!  Wonder what he's saying to the other staff over there.  Here comes the guy asking about our TV personalities and our dish of choice.  He asks a lot about my personal history, personality, cooking style, strengths and weaknesses.  Tough questions, but he's a heck of a nice guy, this Duffy fellow.  "Oh this is the mango habanero salsa everyone is talking about."  Oh no.  "Yeah, I was afraid it might be a little hot..." I said.  
"Oh, no they loved it.  They were all back there talking about how good it was."  Compliment number three.  Is this happening?!  Could I really make it on the show, or even just to callbacks?!"  I'm getting really excited now.  The judges go through the last couple of people.  One person with a ZZ Top beard sings and plays harmonica, and the judges eat it up.  Another 55 year old man has pink hair, the girl two over from me is wearing a see-through shirt.  Maybe I should have worn my eye patch?  The judges wrap it up and leave us in the room as we deliberate.  I make friends with the lawyer and roofer next to me.  You wouldn't believe the crazy array of folks here.  The plated dishes are mostly beautiful, but some people have some Nutso sounding dishes.  I'm feeling pretty good.  The judges come back in with the results.

Stay tuned to the third and final installment!!  Haha, I always hate it when TV shows do that to me, so I get this sick pleasure out of doing it to you.  But seriously, my fingers are tired of typing, so stay tuned.

MasterChef Casting Call Part 1

So for those of you who have been following my MasterChef casting call audition, here's how it went!  I have to preface it by saying that it was an awesome experience, and it meant the world to me to have so much support from family, friends and readers.  I was truly overwhelmed with gratitude, so a sincere thank you goes out to every single person reading this!

It began on Friday morning by hacking up a ridiculous sized piece of meat, pouring the marinade I made the night before over the hacked pieces resting in my beloved dutch oven, and packing it in the cooler along with all my ingredients for the mango salsa, pickled onions, banana leaves, and the rest of the marinade.  I wasn't sure how well equipped the kitchen in our hotel room would be, so I was careful to pack plenty of knives, containers, etc.  My sister arrived and joined Ashley and me for the car ride down.

We arrived at the hotel, which was about 20 minutes away from downtown, but very clean, pleasant and well equipped.
My cozy little hotel kitchen
We settled in, I made my salsa and pickled onions, and we got ready for dinner.  We drove downtown and decided to try out Moon River Brewery and ordered some amazing beers with dinner.  I had the Rosemary IPA (India Pale Ale), and it was incredible.  I love IPAs in general, but the very subtle rosemary in this one played so well off the citrus character of the hops and added a festive Christmas tree feel to it too!  Ashley ordered a beer that was better than a dessert.  Her Sweet Potato Ale was not sweet or spiced, but was a perfectly refreshing and full bodied ale.  The rim was dusted with a mixture of crushed nuts, spices and brown sugar and it made a huge impression!  Yum.  I don't remember what Lori ordered, but clearly it was not as good as mine and Ashley's... sorry, Lo.
Rosemary IPA up front, Sweet Potato Ale to the right, mystery (Belgian?) ale to the left.  Sorry for the fuzzy photo!
We gobbled up some standard pub fare, and headed down to River Street, which was looking pretty desolate for a Friday night.  Before heading back to the hotel to crash, we grabbed a beer to go...
Yes!  Wait!  Did you know about that?!  Savannah has an open container law that allows you to literally roam the streets of downtown with beer in hand.  Weird and wonderful.  I had to take a picture as evidence.
After heading back to the hotel, it was straight to bed.  Oh, did I mention that poor little sister was so sick she was hacking her brains out?  It's true.  No sleep for you!  Does that make me sound mean and cruel?  Probably.  But I really did feel so bad she felt so bad.  We tried our best to take care of her, but it turns out Mel and Ash care isn't as effective as amoxicillin.  I got up at 3am to line the dutch oven with banana leaves and wrap them around the meat like a present.  At least Miss Piggy can be all snug and warm in her sheets even if I can't.  I guess I should count my blessings that I wasn't snuggling up to sleep in an oven like this pork was.  Into a 275 degree oven until I clambered out of the bed again at 7.  I got up at 4.  WHAT?!  The oven light isn't on!  Tailspin into panic!  Turns out the oven light was just broken, and it had indeed been cooking and I would indeed get to present my dish as intended.  I got up at 5.  Good.  Still cooking.  Ash got up at 5:30, got Lo some water to ease her coughs and grumbled as she went to the bathroom and took world's longest shower.   Wet headed cousin climbs back into bed, I climb into shower. It's 8am and I am yelling.  Get up!  Am I going to have to go do this thing by myself?!  I'm so sweet in the morning.  It's 8:30 and we're all in the car on the way.  We pull into Savannah Tech Community College and everyone is toting the coolers to the door.  Awesome!  My hands are sweaty and now I am so nervous I feel the urgency of needing a bathroom STAT.  Sweaty is gonna look so sexy, how could they dare not put me on the big screen?
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I'll give you all the sweet behind the scenes details of MasterChef casting calls...