Sunday, December 18, 2011

Salty + Sweet : Kale + Shortbread

Hi friends! Can you believe Christmas is in SIX DAYS?!?!?! I'm freaking out and SO excited! My parents are on their WAY to come celebrate with us in Australia and I'm SO ready for the party! Food frenzy, family, church and a party for Jesus... what could be better? (besides having jord, brent and lulu here too) :( ANYWAYS, its gonna be great and I hope you guys are every bit as excited as I am about the holidays! There's no better time to enjoy family and food than RIGHT NOW, so let's seize the day!! :D

Today I'm just going to share with you two REALLY SIMPLE but great recipes to add to your Christmas dinner meal... if you're running short on side dishes and dessert ideas, try these out. They're easy easy easy and a sure success with pretty much everybody! So here goes...

Salty: simple, fresh Kale salad!

  • Wash and finely chop 1 bunch of kale. Usually 1 bunch is around 0.7 lbs. I chop vertically, then horizontally.
  • Lightly toss the chopped kale leaves with a few drizzles of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon.
  • Sprinkle in grated or flaked parmesan reggiano cheese. We like quite a bit to balance out the tart lemon.
  • Generously sea salt and pepper the kale. (for taste and for looks) ;)
  • Add in 1 clove of freshly minced garlic. (optional... but SO good with it)
  • Toss it and serve with ANYTHING!

Kale is a really great switch up to a "normal" side salad for your Christmas meal. It's great along side fish, roast chicken, beef, whatever... and another benefit is that it's light so it won't overpower any other dishes you're serving... just a really good addition.

Sweet: Shortbread!
This recipe is SO easy and it's unbelievably delicious and "moorish," as my mother in-law says. :) (meaning, you always want more... get it? Love you, Judy!) I spotted the original recipe from a Williams- Sonoma cookbook and just tweaked a few things so I can't really call it my own, but I do think my tweaks make it great. :)
  • 2 sticks salted butter, softened.
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1/4 granulated sugar, plus an extra 1 Tablespoon for sprinkling
  • 1 & 1/2 cup all- purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. With your electric mixer, whip the butter until it forms little soft peaks.
Add in both of the sugars and blend REALLY well, for about 2 minutes. (until the mixture is pretty smooth and not gritty when you rub your fingers together)
Add in the first cup of flour and blend well. Now mix together the other 1/2 cup of flour and salt before adding it to the batter. Once blended, mix it into the batter really well. The batter will start to form little balls, that's normal. Keep blending! You may have to scrape the batter out of the beaters to mix well at this point because it'll be getting a little thicker.
Now blend in the vanilla extract. Press the dough into a 9 inch square baking pan. (ungreased) I highly suggest flouring your fingertips! Also it helps to press with your palms to make sure it's all evenly distributed throughout the pan.
Now sprinkle that extra tablespoon of sugar all over the top.
Bake for about an hour, or until it starts to turn golden on the edges. (now eat the left over dough on the beaters!)
When I use my own oven, it takes an hour, always. But I just made it here in Australia in Judy's oven and it only took 40 minutes so just be sure to take a look every 20 minutes or so.
When you take it out of the oven, cut vertically in 1 inch increments, then horizontally in 3 inch increments to make the individual shortbreads. Then take a fork to each shortbread biscuit and decorate a little design in it! That's it!
These things are GREAT straight out of the oven or a couple days later. So whether you're having a small Christmas dinner or a massive one, you can make them the night of or way in advance. Both ways will be delightful, so no worries!

I hope this post has been helpful and maybe given you some good, quick options to make your holidays a little different and even tastier than they already will be! It feels good to be giving you RECIPES! Like I've mentioned recently before, I will continue to give you some restaurant reviews while I'm here because I'm not in the kitchen as much but I will ALSO be giving you recipes so stay tuned! :) Have the best next couple of days in preparation for the GREATEST holiday in the world!!!

Love you guys! What's everyone making for Christmas dinner?? :)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

just a quick hello ...

to tell you all that I've been searching for inspiration and things to blog about but I don't want to just waste your time! I haven't hardly done ANYTHING in the kitchen while I've been here and as some of you have seen, it's been baby world around here the last few days so meals have been 'here and there' and mostly out! HOWEVER, that's changing soon and we'll be cooking and baking a lot more... my sister in-law from Scotland has just arrived and she's ready to dive into the kitchen with me so again, PLEASE give me grace during this time but also get ready for some new interesting things! I PROMISE I'll be posting regularly again soon!

In the meantime I'll share with you my personal favorite thing I have while I'm here in Syd and my "shame on you for being American" thing. haha! (meaning the most favorite thing of everyone here in Australia that I just don't happen to care for)

LOVED: meat pies and chips. (aka fries)
Seriously you guys, this is one of those love/love relationships... the TASTE of the filling and the crust of these babies is actually blissfully perfect in my opinion... they're savory, they're hearty, they're filling and they're fun to eat...  and instead of hating that I literally want to eat one everyday because they're super high in "gunk" factor, I LOVE that I want one every day because whoever makes them is a flipping GENIUS! All I have for genius chefs is love. They're simple... Just steak and onions or steak, cheese and bacon, or good old fashioned plain steak. But they're magical. If you're ever in West Pennant Hills here in Sydney, PLEASE do yourself a favor and go have a meat pie from the Coonara Bakery. They're beautiful, kind people and they can make a PIE!
 (that's how you eat them... dunking the chips in the middle! SO GOOD!)
This was my third demolished pie. :)

NOT SO LOVED: Cadbury Dairy Milk and all other Cadbury sorts. ("gasp!" i know... Colbs, I still love ya even though you're favorite things at Easter are those foil wrapped Cadbury eggs!) :)
Cadbury in the states isn't my favorite either but in my opinion, it's shockingly easier to manage than the Cadbury over here. (states Cadbury is from the UK. Aussie Cadbury is from Australia.) It's just so SUGARY! And the worst, most heart-breaking thing about it is that chocolate is my favorite thing in the entire world... I'm sickeningly in LOVE with chocolate. But I actually can very easily turn this particular kind down every single time without giving it a second thought. (makes me emotional) And on TOP of that, my husband is NOT a chocolate lover, so desserts that we both enjoy TOGETHER are very few and far between... guess what his favorite chocolate is? Yep. Cadbury.
I'll tell you this. I don't think it tastes bad. And the consistency is SO great... they've really mastered that in my opinion. And before I REALLY write it off for all time, I'm going to make James' grandmother's Caramel Slice recipe, which is literally 1/3 part Cadbury chocolate, and we'll see what the verdict is after that. (I'll be sharing that recipe and some photos of the process shortly... for those of you who like twix, milky way, things of that nature... tune in!) But all in all, I hate to say it.... I'm just not a fan and I would never recommend it. (ahh! don't disown me, Rudders!) ;)

I know this was a silly post but to be honest, pies and Cadbury chocolate have been a big part of the culinary experience of this trip thus far..... so there ya go! For the most part you're caught up! :) Pathetic I know but really, I WILL "wow" you one of these days very soon. Sydney is FULL of fabulous food and I'm really getting inspired to make some new fancy things! (also especially stay tuned after Saturday... we're having breakfast out at a great little spot so I'll see what goodies I can order to make you guys excited to read about!)

Lots of love to you guys and I hope everyone is making really fun things in preparation for the holidays! Anyone have any fabulous recipes they want to share?? ;)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Big Brekky

HELLOOOO friends! It's been 6 days since my last post and I've been DYING to get to you! Last night was our third night here in Australia and I finally got a good night's rest and feel human again! SO, today I thought I'd tell you about The Big Brekky.

Like I said in my last post, I'm obviously not in charge of cooking all the meals while we're here having our family holiday so I won't often be posting original recipes these next few weeks. However, we have already experienced a few great restaurants and dishes worth telling you about and Christmas is just around the corner, so no doubt I WILL be cooking and baking! ;) You know me, I can't help myself! So have a little bit of grace for me, if you will, while I'm out of my own kitchen. I'll let you in as best I can on how fabulous Sydney really is when it comes to people, food and culture... you won't be missing my recipes, I can promise you that.

Well, I'm not sure if any of you have ever done the trip from the East Coast over to Sydney, Australia but let me tell you... as many times you do it, it NEVER gets easier. I was a hot mess getting off that third plane at 7:30 am. I hadn't slept more than 2 hours on the 14 hour flight, my mascara somehow managed to snowflake all over my entire face, causing IMMEDIATE break out, I'm sure I had eaten four times too many "almond flavor cookies" and "breakfast pastries" that they constantly serve you because I couldn't tell if I was hungry or not... my ankles and knees looked like kid party blow up bouncy castles... you get the picture. We were greeted SO kindly but James' parents, sister and our 5 month old nephew that we were meeting for the first time (good thing he won't remember what I looked like the first time he met me)! Their genius plan for getting us over our jet lag and keeping us awake was to take us to the best breakfast ('brekky' as the aussies say) spot in town straight from the airport... that really was a genius plan. You all know me, breakfast is ALWAYS a good option for me and never fails to bring me back to life. This place was perfect. Exactly what you want in a great breakfast joint. It had big, wide open beautiful glass windows. check. It was small. check. It had it's own espresso bar and fresh made pastries. check. check. The menu had breakfast basics and fancies. check. Spinach, roasted tomatoes and feta were prominent players on the menu. CHECK. You're getting the picture, right? We even got a private little table set up for us on the back porch because we wanted to be in the sunlight (again, it helps to get over jet lag)... "no problem" they said. This is the kind of breakfast spot you dream of. Great atmosphere, great menu and a really gracious staff. So now that I've sold you on it, let me show you our coffee and meals. (if you haven't eaten yet today, go make some toast then continue reading... otherwise you'll turn your kitchen into breakfast heaven, whether it's 10am or 1am)

To start, we all got different coffees:

Charles ordered a "Mugaccino" (a common thing to order over here in Australia. a cappuccino in a mug instead of just a small cup).
(by the way, my dad in-law's personality is totally expressed in this photo... isn't he great?) :)

James ordered a double espresso. Surprise surprise.

And I ordered a long black, which is basically the Australian version of a stronger americano. It was bliss. (not photographed)

Now for the FOOD!

Charles ordered the Vivacious Veg! Whole wheat toast topped with scrambled eggs, sauteed spinach, grilled whole asparagus, roasted baby tomatoes and FRESH amazing feta cheese. (sigh) Seriously? How good does that look?!
(also c'mon, isn't the name so fabulous? Vivacious Veg!)

Judy ordered a little side plate of scones that weren't her favorite... they sure were pretty though! I didn't taste them but she said they were dry. We told the waiter and he told us someone else had just said the same thing... then he proceeded to apologize and ask if he could serve her some fresh muffins instead! Well played, friend.
Jodie and James ordered the world's greatest eggs benedict I've ever come across in all of my breakfast loving life. I normally can't eat more than one bite of James' eggs benedict because the hollandaise sauce is so RICH and overpowering. But this hollandaise sauce was different. It was the perfect combination of bite-y, tangy and smooth. It wasn't too thick, it wasn't too rich and it didn't leave that awful film on your teeth like it normally does, you know what I mean? They've totally mastered it and I was WILDLY impressed!
(i could actually lap it up off the plate)

And I ordered the folded omelette.... "simpleton" you say? Au contraire! It was the perfect omelette. The egg was cooked perfectly and all the ingredients kept their OWN flavor, and still complemented one another instead of all tasting like the oil they were cooked in masked with cheese. It was stuffed with sauteed spinach, unbelievable mushrooms (i don't even really like mushrooms), bacon, tomatoes and parmesan cheese and served with the perfect dark crumbly toast. I'd order the same thing all over again.
(really though, see how perfectly that egg is cooked? It's not too fake-y, rubbery fluffy and it's not too floppy... it's just browned and perfect.... deserved two photos.) ;)

SO, if you're in Sydney any time soon, I highly recommend you make it your "go-to" for your morning coffee, breakfast or jet lag cure. If you're NOT in Sydney any time soon... who cares! This should be your new standard for the next breakfast establishment you decide to give your business to. I'd say this place gets a 4 out of 5. The Big Brekky, I'll see you again in a few days when my folks arrive... maybe you can work your magic again! ;)
(shameless family photos... LOOK at my nephew! AH! Hello Elijah!) :)

Friends, THANK YOU thank you thank you for being so patient with me while I'm overseas. As silly as it sounds, it's actually not the easiest thing in the world to get wi-fi everywhere over here so my best bet is to go experience Sydney and blog when we get back here to the house. I've stored up a few things now since I've been here three days so be ready to see more on a regular basis again! :)

Lots of love to you all and I'll update you soon!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saturday Stew

Happy Saturday sweet people! I'm going to make this post quick since it's Saturday and I know everyone is busy! We've been rushing around quite a bit getting ready for our 6 week trip (ah!) so dinner will be easy tonight... Saturday Stew, made from leftovers of our Wednesday pot roast. My mom always says whenever there's leftovers and dad wants to toss 'em, "don't you dare throw that away! i can make soup out of that!" Haha... so mom, you've rubbed off on me! We couldn't eat the pot roast 'as is' one more time without turning into a round chuck ourselves but I wasn't about to throw it out! So I turned it into this amazing little pot of stew! Let me show you what I did in case you've got ANY kind of meat and veggie leftovers that you're about to toss! Don't! :) Make stew!

  • get out a stock pot and fill it with a little water, a chicken bouillon cube and 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic. I use chicken bouillon for stew most times since it's a bit saltier and I use garlic for everything always forever and ever amen just because.
  • add your leftovers, just as is...meaning don't bother separating the meat from the carrots from the potatoes from the turnips etc... throw it all in, that's the glory of stew. i had leftover basmati rice so i threw that in as well, just to give it some umph.
  • if it's not already in your leftover meal, add a can of peas and a can of whole kernel corn, WITH the juices. if you're making a bigger pot of stew for a heartier dinner meal for a lot of people, throw in a can of cannellini beans or whatever you have as well, NOT including the water. 
  • if it goes, add in a few baby carrots and maybe a few more diced potatoes. stew is a good meal to use up all of your odd amounts of produce that you have left at the end of the week. for example, i literally had 10 baby carrots left and 2 potatoes so i threw that all in instead of wasting it before we left town.
  • salt to taste and pepper heavily. there's something so right about a peppery stew.
  • if you have them (which you should) add a bay leaf or two to the top of the stew before you put the lid on.... such good flavoring and smell they give. then just let it simmer on 'low' for about 2 hours... or more if you've got the time. mine simmered for probably 4 & 1/2 hours and it's perfect.
  • now serve with a crusty piece of toast or a contrasting light kale salad and call it dinner! :)
Easiest thing ever right? There's no use in getting rid of perfectly good leftovers just because you're tired of the taste. Also stew can keep for such a long time so you're really stretching your bang for your buck here. If you're just a little creative, your groceries can give you quite a few extra satisfying meals if you let them. :)

Okay so here's the update for those of you who don't know. James and I will be traveling to Australia for 6 weeks. I will of COURSE be blogging when I get there but I will be M.I.A. for 3 days, seeing as how it takes 2 days to get there even. When I finally adjust to the time difference, you can bet I'll be filling you in on all the culinary goodies Sydney has to offer. So check back in a few days and hopefully you'll be pleasantly surprised with some foreign foodie adventures!

Love you guys...thank you for all your continued support, love and QUESTIONS! I really appreciate you and love letting you in on simple tricks that make cooking more fun and tangible for you. I'll try my best to give some original recipes from my mother and sisters in law, but definitely look forward to "eye candy" posts about beach-y coffee shops, wild fish restaurants and a handsome man named James taking me out on Sydney harbour dates. ;)

Have the best weekend, friends and I hope you make a really great stew to last you through til Monday. :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday Fave or Fail ... 300 east

Happy Friday friends!

It's that time again... Friday Fave or Fail... today we have a FAVE! I only have winning things to say about 300 East, the brilliant, cozy spot in the heart of Dilworth (Charlotte, NC). But first, let me update you on that bruschetta chicken we talked about on Thursday! Here are the results: Chicken was tender and tasted great...the carrots were amazing, slightly crunchy still and definitely took on the flavor of the tomato and basil... the potatoes were completely unnecessary and I'm sorry I told you to put them in there... if you happen to be making this today for dinner tonight because you were waiting to hear whether it was worth it or not, make it for sure... just leave the potatoes out. They weren't bad, but they weren't good. I put them in there to make the meal a little more "manly" for my hubby, but they just didn't add anything good to the mix. My apologies. :) At least we know for next time! NOW... on to bigger and better things....

Going to 300 East is an experience. It's not just eating out at a great restaurant. It's an old, quaint house that's been up fitted to serve no more than 100 people really unique "comfort food." When I say comfort food though, I don't mean cheap-y ingredients stretched to make a giant, starchy meal... I mean really filling and CREATIVE twists on comforting food. It's gourmet without being staunch. It's filling without being crappy. It's innovative and beautiful but there's something for everyone. Let me show you what my family and I had at our last visit to give you an idea of the variety and creativity.

To start: Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato Soup... smooth, creamy, vibrant red pepper flavor and the perfect start to a fall meal. Not sure I've ever had a better tomato soup. (them there are fightin' words, i know)
(mmm oh my gosh)
Other Starter because we can't help ourselves... it's the best thing on the menu: Baked Goat Cheese with Roasted Garlic & Sun-dried tomatoes
(and a 300 East tradition, Red Oak to polish everything off)

 Jordan's Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with sesame dressing, wasabi and shoyu glaze.... OUTSTANDING! I don't even like ahi tuna... sad I know, but this I could eat.
Mom's... which is my favorite thing on the menu... Black Bean & Green Chile Chicken Tortilla... served open faced with everything you could possibly imagine wanting on a giant crispy tortilla of black bean goodness.
 (LOOK at that thing!)
Dad's Barbeque Special... they don't have this every night, probably because it's too amazing. Also served with jalapeno cornbread.... what could be better?
 Brent's Special Fish... I actually can't remember what this was called...? Not wahoo and not mahi mahi but some flaky, delicious grilled white fish. Jordan swears that EVERY time you go, you should just order the special fish because it's bound to be the best you've ever had in your life. I have to say, this was TIED with the best I ever had in my life, which was in Aruba (sorry babe, not Sydney). Really, even if you're not a fish person... if you're a FLAVOR person, their fish specials will blow your mind. This was served with some incredible tangy light sauce over a bed of peanut noodles. Oh my gosh.
 And mine... oh mine.... I'm a sucker for falafel. But most every restaurant I've been to that attempts falafel FAILS with a big flop. Not 300 East! Kristine Schmidt (the head chef), you have MASTERED the art of a perfect, spiced and delicious black-eyed pea falafel. WELL DONE. I'm a fan for life. Also the Tzatziki is perfect. Literally perfect. Also pita is my favorite thing in life, you know I have a separate stomach just for good pita. Just look at that pita. Ugh.
Oh, you're still somehow interested in dessert, even after all of this savory eye candy? Ok let me show you what we had!

First, their Warm Callebaut Chocolate Brownie with vanilla ice cream, chocolate and caramel sauces... a classic. You can never go wrong with a warm brownie and ice cream...? Why change a good thing? And second, the most creative dessert I've had in a long time... Basmati Rice, Tapioca and Quinoa Creme Brulee, served with cinnamon almond tabouli and a quinoa cookie, all dusted with powdered sugar. Maybe you're thinking, "gross! what? that's not dessert!" Well friend, you're thinking wrong and being closed minded. Think again. Think, "yes! something creative and different and maybe not so sickeningly sweet!" You will be pleasantly surprised with how simply delicious this strange combination of three ingredients is. Besides, who cares what the filling is... the top of the creme brulee is TOASTED SUGAR... anything would be good with toasted sugar on top, I'm sure of it. :)
Even Lulu had a great time at 300 East!
 (no, that wasn't a 300 East dog treat... although I wouldn't put it past 'em!)

So I don't feel the need to write anything more about this place, really. Just go! Make a point to get adventurous one night this week... hmm say, tonight? It is Friday after all... and GO to 300 East. You will not be disappointed.

Have a GREAT rest of your Friday!