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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Bonfire steak, sweet potato caprese, and vanilla bean latte snickerdoodles

On a recent trip to get my hair cut, I made a stop by one of my favorite specialty stores in Lexington, Stuarto’s. Stuarto’s is a company that sells specialty olive oils, balsamic vinegars, sea salts, and cane sugars. I’ve even gone to a few of the cooking classes they host which always features their products being used in really creative (and yummy) ways.

When I stopped in, Stuarto himself was there and he introduced me to some of their newest flavors and products. I bought a balsamic vinegar, a cane sugar, and a sea salt. Specifically, I bought black cherry balsamic vinegar, vanilla bean cane sugar, and bonfire sea salt.

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At the time I didn’t plan on a food challenge, I was just so excited about the new products. It was on the drive home that I realized I could make a challenge for myself this week and give Joe a break from coming up with ideas. My challenge to myself was to create a unique dinner and dessert. I decided to add in the chipotle olive oil I had purchased on my last visit to Stuarto’s too.

For dinner, I made a bonfire salted steak with chipotle sauteed onions and sweet potato caprese. First, I thinly sliced the sweet potato and popped them into the oven at 350 degrees. I flipped the slices at about 15 minutes into the baking. I waited until they were tender.

I followed all of the “rules” for a perfect steak by getting good steaks at Critchfield Meats and letting the steaks get to room temperature before cooking. I pressed the bonfire sea salt into both sides and then seared the steaks in coconut oil. Why coconut oil? See my post on what I learned about cooking steak at a cooking class with Wild Thyme. After both sides were seared, I placed the steak in the oven to finish cooking. While the steaks finished cooking, I sauteed the onion in chipotle olive oil until tender.

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I used the roasted sweet potato rounds as the tomato replacement in a traditional caprese. I placed thinly sliced fresh mozzarella on each round, added basil leaves, and drizzled the black cherry balsamic vinegar over it. I thought the sweetness of the black cherry would go nicely with the sweet potato.

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The finished dish was delicious. The timing was off a little with the steaks and the sweet potatoes both requiring oven time. Joe’s assessment was that there was a nice mix of salty and sweet and that the meal was very satisfying.

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For dessert, I put my own twist on a classic snickerdoodle recipe. I made three modifications. First, I added two tablespoons of cocoa to the mix to give it a very light chocolate flavor. Second, I added 3 tablespoons of brewed coffee. Last, instead of rolling the cookies in the traditional sugar and cinnamon mixture, I rolled them in the vanilla bean sugar cane.

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The end result was very good. The coffee flavor wasn’t quite as strong as I’d hoped. But the cookies were soft and fluffy. I also was a little too conservative with the vanilla bean sugar as I wasn’t sure how far the small container would stretch. This recipe is definitely a “keeper”!

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