Anniversary Challenge

It has already been a year since I started my food blog. And what a fun year it has been! In the past year I’ve written over 80 posts, accrued followers from many countries including Poland, France, Austria, and others, I’ve changed blog host sites from Posterous to WordPress, forgotten ingredients, burned my arm, learned about new styles of cooking and new vegetables, and I’ve even won a recipe contest in the Kentucky Monthly magazine. I’ve cooked everything from a simple soup to lobster, from stuffed mushrooms to lamb chops, and from vegetarian curry to pumpkin muffins.

I had hoped that I would not get bored with this adventure, and that my husband would not get tired of coming up with challenges for me to pursue. So far, it doesn’t look like we are slowing down. So, because of this anniversary, this week’s challenge seemed extra special to me. He asked me to make 3 gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches (or cheese toasties depending on where you are from), to try to elevate a classic comfort food.  I was allowed to shop for my own ingredients and came home with lots of options.


I took inspiration from my favorite food, sushi, for the first grilled cheese sandwich. My favorite roll is a Philadelphia roll. So, I pulled cream cheese and avocado from that roll. I also love a California roll, so I pulled the crab from that roll. I mixed the cream cheese and diced crab, added it to bread and topped it with avocado before cooking it.


My second gourmet grilled cheese was inspired by some ingredients I already had on hand. I had a huge bag of basil from my mother in law and several tomatoes from my community supported agriculture share. I decided my second one would be a homemade pesto, tomato and mozzarella grilled cheese.

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Finally, I took a little hawaiian inspiration for my final grilled cheese. The plan was to add smoked cheddar, pineapple, toasted coconut, and ham…but I forgot the ham  =(  So, my final grilled cheese was a meatless version of my original plan. I used to make grilled cheese by just spreading butter onto the bread and then putting it into the pan. However, my brief time working in a kitchen at a golf course taught me that the bread was so much better when the butter was melted first and then brushed onto the bread. Look at that golden brown and even color!


The three sandwiches were all very good. Our favorite was the pesto, tomato and grilled cheese (pictured as first on the left) and it was also the messiest. The sushi grilled cheese was good (pictured in the middle), but could be better with a little crunch. Maybe add cucumber? And finally, the hawaiian grilled cheese was good, but could have been so much better with ham (pictured on the right).


I look forward to another year of exciting food challenges and kitchen lessons!


Swordfish, Bok Choi-Mushroom Puree, and Pineapple Salsa


For my food challenge tonight, Joe brought me swordfish steaks, pineapple, lemon, bok choi, mushrooms, and asparagus. He told me he brought me options, but I decided to brave it and make something that including every ingredient!

I started with a pineapple salsa. I didn’t have all of usual ingredients on hand, but made it work with red onion, lime, green pepper, a banana pepper, and pineapple. P.S. A pineapple corer – has to be one of the coolest inventions ever.




Next, I boiled the mushrooms, bok choi, and asparagus for about 5 minutes. I just wanted to soften the mushrooms and bok choi. I put the asparagus into an ice bath to blanch it. Blanching helps to get a bright green color to make the dishes pop a little more.


I threw the bok choi, mushrooms, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and 2 tablespoons of butter into the blender and turned it into a puree. I sauteed the asparagus in chipotle olive oil from Stuarto’s to reheat them and give them a little flavor.


I used the grill pan coated in olive oil to get a sear on the swordfish steaks and cook them. You typically want swordfish to be a little rare in the middle (click here for more tips on cooking swordfish), but I was a little nervous about the fish quality we were getting. So, I cooked it a little longer than I would for higher quality fish (about 5 minutes on each side).

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To plate it, I rested the fish on the puree, finished it with a little lemon juice, added pineapple salsa and asparagus!

image(188)It was good! I would have liked a real grill for the swordfish though.  It has to be relatively healthy, right? I had a lot of the bok choi-mushroom mixture leftover, so I’d like to turn that into some type of a vegetarian soup. Hmmm, there may be a flexitarian post sometime in the near future…

Flexitarian Favorites…so far

It has been almost a month since I decided to start replacing the meat in my diet for a couple of days a week. I shared this new lifestyle decision with you in my post titled “Less Meat!” I set the goal for two days a week and that has been completely manageable. In fact, I’ve even gone three days in some weeks. If you’ve been following along, you’ve seen posts about my Go Green Bake and my Eggplant and Heirloom Lasagna.

Those were my most involved veggie fixes so far, but I have a few other very simple but tasty favorites too.

I found a recipe for curried egg salad and I can’t get enough of it! I keep forgetting to take pictures of this one, but you can see the finished product in the original post. I’ve also used this as a filling in lettuce wraps instead of on toast just to mix things up a bit.

I am also a fan of flat bread veggie pizzas. Pictured is a pizza margherita. You can make so many different combinations and usually I just use this to finish some odds and ends veggies that are in the refrigerator before they spoil.

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I also tried a recipe from Martha Steward for a Tortilla and Black Bean Pie. It was very tasty! I suggest adding a little extra hot sauce to it. I also replaced the scallions in the original recipe with cilantro. This is what I’ve made for my food swap event coming up next week!

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I had leftover black beans from the pie, so I made Buffalo Black Bean Stuffed Peppers the next night. Basically, I just used 1/4 cup chopped red onion, 1 cup of black beans, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 6 chopped cherry tomatoes, and 3 tablespoons of buffalo sauce for the filling, and topped it with mozzarella and baked it until heated through. A great way to use the black beans in a different way!


Food, Flowers, and More…

Today we attended the 7th annual Tomato Festival at the Arboretum.

Although the festival was small, it was packed full of things to taste, activities for kids, mini lectures on cooking, growing tomatoes, tomato diseases, and other relevant topics. It was only $2 a person and we got to sample food from several local places including Azur, Whole Foods, and Smashing Tomato.

I don’t have a cooking challenge in this post, but I wanted to share this food related event with readers. We had the opportunity to try…

Bread, cheese, tomato, and bacon appetizers


Tomato and Mango Smoothies


Crusty bread with tomatoes, relish, and herbs


Smash Sauce (Spicy!)




And a Candied Cherry Tomato


And although we didn’t get to try it, we were given a recipe for spicy tomato jam that I am excited to try making.

In between all of the tomatoey goodness, we explored the Arboretum a bit. I hate to admit it, but we’ve lived here for 3 years and had not really taken our time to look around there. It is a beautiful place littered with art and interesting things. For example, we saw a flying bird sculpture and a bottle tree. We learned a little about the history of bottle trees as ways that evil spirits were caught and destroyed.



We also visited the rose garden. I LOVE rose gardens.

image(169)Now back to the tomatoes…

We were able to sample a lot of different varieties that I’d never heard of like black pear tomatoes, sun gold tomatoes, and rocky top tomatoes. I so rarely eat tomatoes plain and raw that I really could taste major differences in them. All of the heirloom varieties reminded me of my eggplant and heirloom tomato lasagna.


Overall, it was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, learn a little more about food, and support local events.

Chinese Cod Dumplings with a Cherry Sauce Reduction

Food challenge time!

It is amazing how much I still look forward to my food challenge nights. When I started this blog almost a year ago I remember thinking to myself that I would probably get bored with the idea and move on to other hobbies. Luckily, I’m still having a blast and learning so much! For tonight’s challenge, Joe brought me cod, lettuce greens, cherries, and goat cheese. He also brought very specific instructions: “Go wild, go crazy. Don’t leave the fish in a filet form and don’t give me a salad.”

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I had wanted to try make chinese style dumplings for quite some time. I remember thinking that the recipe for the dough was very easy and was able to remember it for this challenge without use of the internet. It is just a 2:1 ratio of flour:hot water. Simple enough. I set my mind to turning these into dumplings.

First, I started the cherries. I pitted each cherry which took awhile. Sure enough, there are easier ways to pit a cherry than what I did. I added them to about 2 cups of red wine and let this cook on low while I did everything else.

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Next, I added 1 clove of minced garlic, about 1/8 cup of onion, several stems of chopped chives, and fresh grated ginger (I still have ginger from my Chicken Tikka Masala) to a few teaspoons of olive oil.

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This is where I seared the cod. It fell apart in the pan but I wasn’t planning on keeping the filet shape so it worked out.

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After the fish came out of the pan, I added lettuce torn into bite sized pieces. I left it cooking on medium-low so that the lettuce would slightly wilt. While it wilted, I shredded the fish with two forks.

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Next, I mixed the wilted lettuce and 2 ounces of goat cheese into the shredded fish.

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This is my dumpling filling. Now, I just needed dumplings. I mixed 2 cups of flour and one cup of boiling water to form the dough. I rolled it into a ball and let it set until the dough had cooled.

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I rolled out small circles (with a drinking glass! I rarely bake so I have never owned a rolling pin!). I filled each circle with about a tablespoon of filling, making sure that I got lettuce into every dumpling. At this point, I blanked on how dumplings actually look…I couldn’t remember and with my own no internet rules, just had to make up a way to close them. For the record, this is how they look so I wasn’t too far off in my own interpretation.

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Two lessons from the pictures above. First, it takes a lot of flour to keep the dough from sticking. Second, make sure you get all of the lettuce stems out or they poke through the delicate dough.

I fried the dumplings in a wok with olive oil and then added water and covered them to allow them to finish cooking.

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Finally, I added the wine reduced cherries. I have to have a moment of complete honesty here. I didn’t want to try them. It sounded good when I started, but the seeing the dumpling mixture kind of grossed me out. I had texture concerns. I thought I would be going to Kroger to get sushi for dinner. And then I thought, I have to blog about this because I promised to blog about all of my challenges including both successes and failures. I made Joe try them first, haha! I finally sucked it up and tried the final dish.

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I was pleasantly surprised. I have lots of tips for improvement, but it was good and we did not have to buy dinner. Will I make it again? Probably not. I think I want to try dumplings again but with a different filling. If you want to try this, or some variation of it, here are my suggestions for improvement:

1. get the dumplings a little browner before adding the water

2. add more goat cheese – I couldn’t taste it at all

3. thinner dough – I need a rolling pin or more arm muscle


According to the Wall Street Journal, the gourmet cupcake trend is crumbling. However, I can say with confidence that I will never tire of gourmet cupcakes. A few favorites are Caramanda’s, BabyCakes, and GiGis. I’m blogging about cupcakes for two reasons. I needed to thank someone for some extra help at the office and I enjoy thanking people with food. Second, I had several bananas that were borderline too ripe. I decided to use the bananas to make cupcakes.

I found a basic recipe online for the cake: a banana chocolate chip cupcake.

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So this was not my original creation and I can not take credit, but I spiced it up with a few touches of my own. And most of my desserts do include a few shortcuts with store bought items. I mixed peanut butter into store bought cream cheese icing.

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I baked another banana to make banana chips. I had banana chips with pork sliders at The Jax during Lexington’s Restaurant Week, “Beyond Grits.” I meant to post about my dining experience there, but forgot to take pictures during the meal! I used the baked banana chips and a few chocolate chips to garnish each cupcake.

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The cupcakes turned out really well. The only thing that needed improvement was the banana chips. They didn’t get as crisp as the ones I tried to replicate. They may have been made using a different method like deep frying or dehydration.

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I don’t normally post about desserts and I don’t normally make them just to try to eat healthy. But, you can check out some of my other desserts at these links:

Vanilla Bean Latte Snickerdoodles

Chocolate and Orange Pudding

Southern Apple Cheesecake

Dark Chocolate Drizzled Pear and Sweet Tomato

White Chocolate and Strawberry Cheesecake

Roasted Eggplant and Baby Heirloom Lasagna

There are lots of things to love about summer. But one thing that always tops my list is the farmers market. I love the fresh foods, sights, the variety of colors, the smells, dogs, and all of the people who gather in one place to support the local farmers. It is a great excuse to get up early and enjoy the summer morning before it gets too hot and other duties pop up for the day.


On my most recent visit to the Lexington Farmers Market, I decided to turn it into a cooking challenge. I found some tasty peaches, blackberries, and local hot sauce (not pictured or used in the dinner challenge). For dinner, I picked up an eggplant, baby heirloom tomatoes, and an onion. I didn’t know where the heirloom tomato name came from until working on this post, but an heirloom tomato is any variety or strain of tomato that is over 50 years old.


The first thing I thought of was Eggplant Parmesan, but I had already made it in a previous cooking challenge post. I rummaged around my cabinets and refrigerator to see what else I could add to the ingredients. I decided to make a roasted eggplant and baby heirloom tomato lasagna. First, I sliced and salted the eggplant. I layered the eggplant between paper towels and added some weight to help get the water out of the slices. I let it drain for about four hours.

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Next, I brushed each slice with olive oil and placed them on baking pans. I seasoned them with a few sprinkles of black pepper and italian seasoning. I roasted it at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.


While the eggplant roasted, I minced two cloves of garlic, chopped half an onion, and quartered each baby tomato. I started to gently sautee this in olive oil. I started boiling the whole wheat lasagna noodles.


I layered the lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan, followed by the eggplant, and then topped with half of the tomato mixture. I only had enough noodles for two layers.


I also only had enough cheese for the top layer. I added about 3 tablespoons of parmesan cheese, 3/4 cup of mozzarella, and 1/2 cup of goat cheese crumbles. I baked it at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes covered and 5 minutes uncovered.


I don’t have a picture of it on the plate, because it fell apart and wasn’t very pretty. Even though it wasn’t pretty, I loved how it tasted! I would add another layer and I would add more cheese (there is never enough cheese!). But I am definitely making this dish again.