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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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

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Thankful for this Thanksgiving Meal Makeover

Before we get down to business, I need to apologize for my recent absence from my blog. I’ve been away at a conference and then busy with family while hosting Thanksgiving for the second year in a row. The conference didn’t really include any “blogworthy” food and our Thanksgiving dinner was pretty traditional. I’m ready to get back to my challenges now though and having a refrigerator full of leftover food is the best way to challenge yourself.

Let’s be honest, there are only so many ham or turkey sandwiches anyone can eat after Thanksgiving. After a few days, I usually freeze some leftovers and move on to other meals. While growing up, I was always curious to see what mom would do with the leftovers. Some of my favorites were recipes similar to  turkey tetrazzini, turkey pot pie, or ham and bean soup. Even though I have mom’s recipes for those childhood favorites, I decided to turn this into a challenge.

I started with my leftover mashed potatoes. I recommend using potatoes for scratch for this recipe. To make mine, I boiled red potatoes and leave the skin on them. I added butter, chives, and onion and chive cream cheese and mash them until they are mixed well, but still chunky.

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Then, I chopped the leftover baked ham.

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I mixed the ham and potatoes together. I topped it off with a sprinkle of fresh chives.

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I popped this into the oven to heat for about 10 minutes. While that heated, I mixed a cornbread mix (the only non-Thanksgiving item in this recipe) that I had in the pantry. I didn’t have milk, but I did have almond milk and used that instead.

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I spread the corn bread batter over the top of the mashed potato and ham mixture.

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I baked this for another 15 minutes. I wanted the corn bread to be fully cooked, but not browned. While it cooked, I grated fresh cheddar cheese.

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I sprinkled this over the dish and baked it until the cheese was melted.

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The finished dish was warm, filling, and different enough from Thanksgiving dinner to be enjoyable. I’m calling it a Twice Baked Ham and Potato Casserole.

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