Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Eating at the Beach

Thanks to the Frattos, Memorial Day 2007 was spent in Holden Beach, NC, surrounded by great friends.

Tim, Jo, "3", Chris and I loaded Carter and Annabelle into the car and embarked on what would prove to be a successful ride down towards the Wilmington, NC, and Myrtle Beach, SC, area (successful being defined as very little traffic - especially relative to what we are used to here in DC). Right off the bat, we knew the ride was destined to be a good one... look who joined us on 95-S!

A few hours later, we arrived and Big Lou, Sweet Eileen (Mr. and Mrs. Fratto), and Mark greeted us from the backyard with the grill blazing. We feasted on barbeque chicken, a mix of roasted potatoes and delicious green beans, and a fresh green salad. Our next order of business was to head to the Friday night tradition of Paradise Cafe karaoke and "Karaoke Mike". Since Chris and I were first-timers, we were unsure of what to expect but once I saw the WF flag hanging proudly from the ceiling, I knew we were "home".

What an absolute blast! For those of you who are lucky enough to have heard Mark croon, you know he has quite a voice. We left after numerous group songs, closing the PC down... though I will say we were not the last to leave.

Saturday would bring a long day out at the beach complete with the annual Memorial Day Fratto whiffle ball extravaganza... and capped off with a hilarious and tasty dinner at Osaka, a Japanese steakhouse in the town nearby.

Sunday some of us visited The Provision Co. restaurant out over the Inner-Coastal Waterway and enjoyed delicious crabcakes and other beachtown treats. The rest of the day was spent enjoying the weather outside and finally preparing for the big Memorial Day cookout, complete with Big Lou and Tim manning both grills to serve up all the options you can imagine... London Broil, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, green bean and tomato salad, grilled corn on the cob, and individually grilled potatoes.

We couldn't have asked for a better way to spend such a great holiday weekend... everything from the accomodations to the company was perfect and we were so sad to leave!!!

Friday, May 25, 2007

It's Official!

I now have logo-ed merchandise!! Just kidding

Thanks, Jayne, though - these are adorable and just what the "chef" ordered... how did you know I was in desperate need of a new basting brush!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

In Other News...

Quick departure from the world of food, coupons, and my nephew... it's American Idol finale time! I will be hosting my first annual AI finale party tomorrow night to celebrate the occasion.

But more importantly... take your pick - will it be Blake... or Jordin left standing?!? And regardless of who wins, who will prove more successful in the long-run?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Worth Every Moment

Waking up at 6am on a Saturday is well worth-while when it means that I'm headed up to spend the entire day with my nephew... 'course my "tune" was a little different later that night around 11pm, but I still wouldn't trade being less than an hour away from my brother, sister-in-law and Charlie, for any amount of sleep.

As an added bonus, in the afternoon while Charlie was napping, I dug through a bunch of Robyn's issues of Southern Living and found tons of new recipes and ideas! In almost all of their articles, whether on gardening, decorating, hobbies, or cooking, they include an informative blurb on "Healthy Living", a number of which are sure to become the inspiration for some new posts as I continue to learn more about heart-healthy foods and other healthy habits.

Charlie sure does know how to spoil his "Kiki" (isn't it supposed to work the other way?)... I was treated to an early birthday present of a beautiful arrangement of sweet pink roses. They were set in a really neat vase with a frog atop of it - I know I'll get LOTS of use out of the frog as flower arranging is NOT one of my talents. Two tips once you've made your own beautiful bouquet... (1) when you aren't around to enjoy your freshly cut flowers, if possible, stick them in the refrigerator and they will last longer! (2) Costco has GREAT prices on amazing flowers - I've even heard that many florists and flower shops buy their flowers there because it's such a good deal.

*Thanks guys... isn't Robyn so talented??

My conclusion of the day... kids grow up WAY too fast... every moment is precious. Why is it that we only remember this after a day with a dear child?

Monday, May 14, 2007

The More, The Merrier

Not that I need to be coerced into cooking and sharing food with friends... but after our girls' night potluck Saturday, these top 5 reasons to have a potluck just popped into my head so I thought I'd share in case you need convincing...

5. It's just a great excuse to cook or bake

4. Hungry friends are always willing to be guinea pigs for a new recipe

3. You get lots of new recipes, tips and ideas

2. Hanging out with other people who love to cook always means debating your favorite Food Network personality (Rachael vs. Giada?)

1. You get to eat A LOT because it's downright rude not to try everyone's dish

I also realized what happens when you have a room full of cooks... it soon turns into a bunch of very stuffed (and happy) bellies! Some of the dishes we enjoyed included fresh olive tapenade served with pita wedges, spicy corn dip with Frito's Scoops, chicken skewers with satay sauce, fresh garden salad, 3-bean baked beans, asparagus salad with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, and cheesy baked rice.

Luckily, we all pulled out of our food comas in time to enjoy some dessert... including my contribution for the evening, Black-Bottom Peanut Butter Mousse Pie. I'd made this before but actually didn't have a chance to taste it so I made sure not to miss out this time! If you love peanut butter, this one's for you!!

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
7 whole graham crackers
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
4 tbsp sugar, divided
1 1/3 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
2/3 cup plus 1 3/4 cups chilled whipping cream, divided
2 tbsp light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla, divided
1 cup peanut butter chips
2 tbsp creamy peanut butter

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spray 9-inch glass pie dish with nonstick spray. Blend graham crackers, melted butter, and 2 tbsp sugar in processor until moist clumps form. Press crumb mixture over bottom and up sides of prepared pie dish. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine chocolate chips, 2/3 cup cream, corn syrup, and 1 tsp vanilla in microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on medium heat until chocolate softens, about 2 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Spread chocolate mixture over bottom of crust. Freeze 10 minutes.

Microwave peanut butter chips and 3/4 cup cream in large microwave-safe bowl on medium heat at 15-second intervals just until chips soften, stirring often. Whisk in peanut butter and 1 tsp vanilla. Cool to barely lukewarm. Beat remaining 1 cup cream and 2 tbsp sugar in medium bowl until very thick but not yet holding peaks; fold into peanut butter mixture in 3 additions. Spoon mousse over chocolate layer. Chill at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

*top with drizzled chocolate and rough-chopped peanuts for added texture and flavor!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

When Not Watching The Food Network...

Since it's May "Sweeps" and season finale time, it's time that I admit that I love NBC's "The Office" (and you know that's saying a lot since my TV really only moves off the Food Network for American Idol). It's actually been a long time coming... I first heard it highly recommended many moons ago from my "out-laws", but I have only more recently given in. It's just too funny not to watch.

This has to be one of the show's funniest clips... though it's all pretty darn funny. (I think secretly I just wanted to post this video so that I could access it more frequently) Now, though, I can't decide if I like Jim as Dwight or Dwight as Jim better...

Take my word for it... tune in Thursdays at 8:36pm (though it sometimes starts at 8:30pm) and you won't be sorry. But don't worry if it doesn't take right away... as I said, the show is an acquired taste, you'll be laughing with us in no time.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A Common Theme

There are a couple of really good reasons why I really like fish... and especially tilapia. As you might be able to guess - I've found tilapia to be another almost perfect (and "almost" only because I assume nothing is really perfect) food and/or ingredient. What else combines versatility with great taste and tons of nutrients... and all that at a low cost (and even lower than you think because it's frequently on sale)?!

Last night, after Andrea and Chris' hearty recommendation, we put our own spin on Cooking Light's "Halibut Fillets with Teriyaki Sauce" and were treated to a wonderful light dish.

1/2 cup pineapple juice
3 tablespoons low-sodium teriyaki sauce
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tilapia fillets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used vegetable oil cooking spray)

  • Combine first 6 ingredients in a small bowl. Stir well and set aside.

  • Combine breadcrumbs and halibut in a large zip-top plastic bag. Seal and shake to coat; set aside.

  • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add fillets; cook about 3 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove tilapia from skillet; set aside, and keep warm.

  • Add teriyaki mixture to skillet. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour over tilapia.

I was running short on time so I went to my frozen veggies and got creative. I thinly sliced some red onion and cooked it in a small pan with about 1/2 tbsp of olive oil just until it was translucent. To that, I added some half-thawed (in the microwave) broccoli spears and with about 3 minutes remaining, I threw in some green peas and topped it all with chopped fresh parsley, thanks to my little herb garden. The onion-infused olive oil mixed with the broccoli and peas turned out to be a great combination and rounded out a healthy, delicious meal!

Monday, May 07, 2007

More Than Meets the Eye

I've been a big-city (or at least a good-sized suburb) girl my whole life so I'm not totally sold on small-town USA but there is definitely something charming about places like Kernersville, NC, where my dear friends Jayne and Jason Grubbs call home.

During my years at Wake, I knew it only as the name of an area that spanned an exit or two on the way to the Greensboro-PTI Airport off of I-40... but should you get off one of those exits, you'll find there's a whole lot more.

Jayne and I were long over-due for a weekend of catching-up and what better time then the weekend of the annual Kernersville Spring Folly. So Saturday morning, after enjoying our coffee over a breakfast of delicious fruit salad and tasty little muffins, we headed out to see what the Folly had to offer.

Even under a light drizzle, people were out in full force enjoying all of the street vendors, various exhibits, carnival rides and all the traditional fair "fare" you can imagine... frozen cheesecake, dipped in chocolate sauce on a stick, roasted corn-on-the-cob, whole turkey legs, cotton candy, shaved ice, funnel cakes, any number of varieties of ice cream. We were able to show some restraint... that is, until we walked by the new coffee and wine bar, appropriately named Caleb Story.Housed in what used to be an interior design business, it didn't take much for this beautiful home to capture our attention... though, admittedly, the "Wine Tasting" sign hung prominently certainly didn't hurt. Jayne and I jumped right in for the wine tasting and Jason was content sipping his Foothills brew.

The bar will be opening late this summer; local Foothills Brewery beer on tap and wine will be featured in the evenings, but it will also be open early mornings serving gourmet coffees and pastries.

After Jason made a mental note of the operating hours of the new restaurant, we headed right across the street to the new home of his law firm, Coltrane, Grubbs, & James, PLLC.

Thankfully, I haven't needed to visit many law firms, but I doubt they all are as nice as CGJ. The offices are in a neat building rich with much history which has been carefully preserved as they redid the inside, making an absolutely beautiful and functional space. The offices weren't 100% done but promise to be just perfect at the firm's June 1st Open House... sadly, my pictures don't even begin to do the space justice.

After the official tour, we headed home to prepare for combined Derby-watching and Cinco de Mayo festivities. Katie and Scott live just down the road in Greensboro so they headed over while we prepared a big bowl of guac - complete with TJ's Spicy Flaxseed chips (I brought a little bit of DC down with me) and soy crisps, a delicious black bean salsa and cream cheese dip, always popular chips and salsa, and chili-lime chicken fajitas. Jason got to work mixing up some margs, and Katie and Scott completed the spread with a fresh corn, onion, black bean, and multi-colored pepper salad. After we were all sufficiently stuffed, we embarked on a game of Scattergories; I will only say that I now remember vividly why I haven't pulled this game out of my parents' closet in years - I was horrible! Regardless, the evening was still a blast... as a Mexican-food lover, it had been somewhat of an embarrassment that I'd never celebrated Cinco de Mayo so I was happy to take part in the festivities this first time with such delicious food and great friends.

As usual the weekend went by far too fast and before I knew it, I was on my way back up to DC by way of sitting in traffic on 95... maybe there is something about those little towns after all!

Thanks, Jayne & Jason, for being such gracious hosts!!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It Could Be Worse

Baking is my weakness... or maybe it's eating what I bake, either way - it's not so bad. I recently found this new recipe (another Cake Mix Doctor great!) which seemed to be a hit... what I noticed, however - it freezes amazingly and is just as delicious and moist when defrosted a week later! Perfect... enjoy!!

Fiddler on the Roof Cake

Vegetable oil for misting the pan
Flour for dusting the pan
1 package (18.25 ounces) plain yellow cake mix
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Chocolate Marshmallow Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour.
2. Place the cake mix, sour cream, oil, sugar, almond extract, salt, and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more. The batter should look well-blended. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it out with the rubber spatula.
3. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining batter and blend with the electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Pour this evenly over the batter already in the pan. Run a dinner knife through the batters to swirl them together for a marbleized look. *Run knife through the batter at MOST twice around the pan, otherwise you will just have an ugly light brown cake. Place the pan in the oven.
4. Bake the cake until it is light brown and springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, 60 to 65 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile prepare the Chocolate Marshmallow Frosting.
6. Run a long, sharp knife around the edge of the cake and invert it onto a serving platter to frost and serve warm. Or invert it onto a rack to cool completely, 30 minutes more. Regardless of whether you want to serve a warm or cooled cake, frost it while the frosting is still warm, spreading the frosting over the top and partially down the sides of the cake with the rubber spatula.

Chocolate Marshmallow Frosting

2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 large marshmallows (great use for stale, old marshmallows)
4 tbsp butter
1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Sift the sugar and cocoa powder together into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
2. Place the marshmallows, butter, and milk in a medium-size heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir until the marshmallows are melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Pour the confectioners' sugar and cocoa mixture over the marshmallow mixture. Add the vanilla and stir until the frosting is smooth and satiny.
3. Use at once. *This can be re-heated over very low heat to regain consistency in order to frost your cake.

*Let me know if you can think of anything else to top with this yummy frosting!

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