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!

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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An Apple a Day (or in three courses…) Keeps the Doctor Away

I spent part of last weekend exploring a local apple orchard, Boyd Orchards, for the first time with my husband and a few friends. It was a nice excuse to spend some time outside and we ended up getting quite a few apples.

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I wanted to put these apples to good use in my self-designed culinary training. This challenge focused on using apples in an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert for a complete three course meal. The rules were a little different than past mystery ingredient challenges. First, I could shop for ingredients. Second, the no help rule still stood meaning I couldn’t use recipes or the internet for help. So, the recipes for the three course meal to follow were conjured up in my own head and in my own kitchen.

It all started with a few beautiful apples.

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First Course

I made an grated apple and carrot slaw tossed in balsamic vinagrette. I topped this with hand grated gouda. No special measurements here; just make it to your personal taste. One recommendation though, drain it well. The apples made it a little watery. P.S. apples do not grate well, they just kind of turn to mush.

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Second Course

I finely chopped an apple and yellow squash and sauteed them in butter. 

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I added some of the grated gouda to the mixture until it melted and coated the apples and squash. While the cheese melted I butterflied the pork chops.

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I stuffed each porkchop with the filling and closed them for baking. I coated each with some olive oil, garlic powder, and fresh rosemary. I baked them for about 45minutes at 350 degrees.

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My only recommendation is to add more cheese. There is no such thing as too much cheese!

Third Course

I baked bisquick biscuits (I know that recipe by heart!). While the biscuits baked, I cooked sliced apples in butter and brown sugar.

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Next, I used beaters to combine 1/2 confectioner sugar (that was all I had on hand so I had to make it work!) with cream cheese (4 oz or a 1/2 package). Then, I made fresh whipped cream. To flavor the whipped cream, I used the buttery brown sugar mixture the apples had been cooking in and whipped it a little longer (all by hand…what a work out!). I put the cheesecake like mixture on top of the open faced biscuit, topped it with the carmelized apples, and then added the whipped cream.

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HOLY COW. I wish I could eat this dessert every day. I am adding this to the menu for Thanksgiving (and Christmas and every family gathering ever). However, I would like to make the biscuits from scratch next time.

Joe’s verdict: He was not a fan of the slaw and I agree. The stuffed pork chop and dessert are both keepers. The dessert got the highest compliment; he even said that it could sell in a restaurant. Maybe Stella’s would take us up on that?

We still have more apples than we can reasonably use before they go bad so I am going to freeze some. I will likely use them for a childhood favorite, fried apple pies or a crockpot applesauce recipe that I found.

Off to recover from a very filling meal!