Baked Brie

Baked BrieHot Stuff
If a party is happening at my place you can bet there are going to be snacks. I say snacks because the phrase hors d’oeuvres can be a bit high brow for what the function actually is. You do not have hors-d’oeuvres at a football party. You have snacks. Munchies. Grubs…You get the idea.

For the rare party that I throw at my place, I almost always have a cheese plate with various cheeses and fresh fruits. It’s easy and elegant and you can set it out and let people serve themselves. Same goes for a dip platter with veggies—or depending on the dip, some interesting crackers. These are easy go-to pre-dinner nibbles that allow you to interact with your guests but they’re not hot, and for parties on a cold night, I like to have at least something that is warm.

The difficult thing about serving hot hors-d’oeuvres is that it requires you to be in the kitchen and not mingling. Instead, you are in a constant stage of putting stuff in the oven or taking it out. One of my favorites is my Hot Cheesy Things which are a family favorite as well as a definite crowd pleaser. But again, there’s that oven thing.

This year I think I have found a solution to the dilemma. Baked Brie.

Obviously, this is not a new concept but you can modernize it a bit by choosing a different type of jam than the traditional raspberry or another sweet version. I’m making mine with a Maple Bacon Onion jam that we sell here at the store but it would also be good with a Balsamic Onion Jam or even a Fig Jam. Of course, anything spicy would work well too—like a little Thai Sweet Chili sauce…Yum!

Because I am using the onion jam I am going to sprinkle a little fresh thyme for a little more flavor.

Baked Brie
Yields about 16 servings Read more…

Mac & Cheese Two Ways

Mac & Cheese Two WaysDinner Dilemma
When I am stressed, I look towards comfort and comfort foods—carbs mainly. That could be potatoes, bread, or even pasta with cheese, But, carb-filled comfort food is what I crave. The problem is that it isn’t really good for you. Most of the really good stuff is fairly non-healthy so it makes it pretty hard to be good to your body while soothing the soul.

This past week has been a series of late meetings, double bookings, surprise practices, and the always well-timed Back to School Night. Finding the time for a legit dinner has been hard. Sure, there’s always Door Dash or picking something up on the way home. But I can’t do that two nights in a row without getting cranky. I need to have a “real” meal.

My other dilemma is that the weather has been cool enough that I want the kinds of things I would normally be making in November like stews and heartier fare. How to create the comfort of slow-cooked food and be able to make it in the spare minutes between meetings, practice, and Algebra I? Most of my favorites like this Shepherd’s Pie will take an hour or more to make. Except for pasta. Pasta is quick. But, I can’t have that night after night. I’m high maintenance that way.

Yes, I could always throw some steaks on the grill. But to be honest, with summer ending I’m getting kind of tired of the grilled stuff. I’m ready to roast.

I don’t think anything is really going to make me happy…except for the whining. Sometimes letting your inner 3-year-old out to play can be cathartic (if not annoying to those around you). It can also be exhausting which is why tonight, we’re going with mac and cheese and a salad because I just can’t adult anymore today…

If I am really lucky, I will convince my daughter to make it after soccer.

Mac & Cheese Two Ways
Adapted from Ree Drummond and the Food Network
Yields 6 servings

This recipe is delicious two ways, either as baked macaroni, or a creamy, stovetop macaroni. Your choice, depending upon how your day is going. (It takes an extra 20 to 25 minutes to bake, and it is definitely worth it on a good day!)

And, to make basic Mac & Cheese a bit more fun, you can consider frying up some bacon and caramelizing a white onion for toppers. Just get them started before you put the water on to boil, and things should all come together at the right time. You can place them in separate bowls on the table along with some chopped chives or other herbs, and people can top their Mac & Cheese as they wish.  Read more…

Saag Paneer (Indian Spinach and Cheese)

Saag PaneerCrazy Cravings
Cravings are weird. Sometimes when I have a craving I am able to fake my way out of it by eating something similar or, strangely, just by drinking some water. Other times that craving hits and there is no denying it. When that happens, I can get a little psycho…

The most recent incident happened when I had some boneless chicken thighs that had to be used so I decided to marinate them in tandoori paste and throw them on the grill. This prompted the search for something that would complement the chicken as a side dish and thus my wicked craving for saag paneer was born.

As luck would have it, I had everything I would need to make the saag on hand but the paneer was a different story. Although making paneer is relatively easy, I did not have the whole milk needed nor, frankly, did I have the time. But, there was no way I could NOT have this side dish. Just thinking about it was making my mouth water. So I ventured to my local store (Alas, I do not live close to Piedmont Grocery) to see if, by chance, they had paneer cheese. No dice.

Panicking, I thought maybe I could cheat with something from the frozen section…but that was a non-starter as well. (Mainly because I am a food snob and just couldn’t bring myself to do it.) By now I’m hangry and frustrated. So, I took a chance and went with those small bite-sized balls of mozzarella. Sigh.

I’m not saying it was bad. It wasn’t. It wasn’t great either. But, it did satisfy my craving and cure me of my food-induced craving mania.

Below is my Saag recipe that also includes a recipe for making paneer. While this recipe may not be super authentic, it is quite tasty. And, can actually be made during the week for those who make dinner to relax. I would recommend playing with the level of spice. Some in my family found it too spicy and others said it wasn’t spicy enough…

Saag Paneer Recipe
Yields 4 Servings
This recipe for the classic Indian spinach and cheese dish uses frozen spinach which is much easier than fresh. If you have extra time and choose to use fresh, first steam it, chop it and squeeze out the excess water.  Read more…

Chili Corn Casserole

Chili Corn Casserole Corn Fed
Can someone tell me where the month of May went? Yesterday I blinked and now all of a sudden we are staring Memorial day in the face. The fact that Memorial Day weekend is upon us is a good thing in my opinion, if only because it is the herald of summer weather, fun, and a slower pace.

For me, and a lot of other people, Memorial Day marks the beginning of BBQ season as well as the arrival of the summer produce. I’ve noticed the peaches and nectarines have started to appear as well as the English peas and the good strawberries. What makes me happiest though is when the local corn starts coming in.

I love fresh corn on the cob and when it’s at its peak, sometimes I don’t even bother to steam it. Corn the cob can be a pain in a BBQ setting ‘cause you aren’t always able to sit and eat. And, managing it one handed can lead to either serious butter stains or corn in the dirt. So, it’s nice to do something with corn that is more paper plate friendly.

Per usual, I will be spending Memorial Day enjoying America’s pastime from the bleachers in Brentwood. But, there will still be time to throw some steaks on the grill and celebrate. So, I am crossing my fingers there will be some corn on the way to the baseball fields ‘cause there is still one more family birthday to celebrate and I’m in charge of sides.

I found this take on cheesy corn casserole in one of my magazines and I can’t wait to give it a try this weekend. The original recipe called for green onions. But, since I am a rebel, I am going to swap those out for diced green chilies. Feel free to try the onions for less of a kick.

Happy Memorial Day!

Chili Corn Casserole
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Yields 8 to 10 serving  Read more…

Thanksgiving Spinach Gratin

Spinach GratinSide Hustle
We all know that turkey is generally the star of the Thanksgiving show. But, if I am being honest, I tend to look forward to the side dishes more than the turkey. The bird is just a means to an end. Coming up with a favorite side dish would be impossible but I’ll give it a shot.

Potatoes are not only well-loved but a requirement. No Thanksgiving table is complete without fluffy, buttery mashed potatoes. Mashed sweet potatoes are a close second.

Gravy. Gotta have the gravy. Gravy has no calories on Thanksgiving. Really. You can look it up.

Then there’s the stuffing. There are two schools of thought with the stuffing—inside the bird or out. My preference depends on the day. The day of, I like it baked in a casserole. The day after Thanksgiving, I like the stuff from the bird in my turkey sandwich.

Regarding the veggies, we rarely have the same vegetable from year to year so I haven’t developed a strong opinion about any dish in particular. Instead, I try to look for an interesting new recipe, but I am not always successful. When that happens, I rely on some tried and true favorites. This recipe from Ina is one that I have shared before but I can’t help myself ‘cause it’s just so stinkin’ good!

For those who are still working on it, I hope you find the perfect menu soon. For those of you who know what they are having and are ready to get started, may your parking spaces be plentiful and the grocery lines short.

To everyone, have a safe, healthy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Spinach Gratin
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Parties
Yields 8 Servings Read more…