Friday, November 21, 2014

Easy Ham 'n Cheesy Bites

Today I'm excited to share an entry I have in the running for the Sargento Original Shreds Recipe Challenge!
 Easy Ham 'n Cheesy Bites
1 (8 ounce) ham steak, cut in large cubes
1/3 cup chopped red onion
1/3 cup chopped roasted red bell pepper
1 (7.5 ounce bag) Sargento Chef Blends Shredded 4 State Cheddar Cheese
¼ cup mayonnaise
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups panko bread crumbs
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pulse ham, onion and peppers in a food processor until finely minced and place in a large bowl. Add the cheese, mayo, cream cheese, garlic powder and pepper and stir until combined. Chill in fridge for 15 minutes. Place the panko on a cookie sheet and lightly spray with cooking spray. Toast in the oven 2-5 minutes. Watch closely to prevent crumbs from burning. Scoop and roll the cheese mixture into balls (about 1 Tablespoon) and roll into breadcrumbs, pressing lightly.
Pimento Cheese is a popular Southern snack and it all begins with good quality cheese. My recipe combines Sargento 4 State Cheddar blend with ham to create an easy to make, easy to serve appetizer that makes 50 bites. The mixture can be made ahead and then breaded right before serving and they will please kids and adults alike!
My kids love these little snacks and I love how delicious and easy they are to make. For parties, in lunchboxes and with a glass of chilled white wine at happy hour they're the perfect twist on ham and cheese, pimento cheese and the classic party cheese ball all rolled into one!
The good news is, there's no voting needed for this contest, but they are tracking the amount of views for each recipe, so if you have a moment, hop on over and view me there too!
What's your favorite make ahead party app?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This Turkey Takes the Cake

My kid's school threw their Fall Fair this past weekend, and I signed up to donate cakes and cupcakes for the cakewalk booth. I think they came out super cute and my kids were very excited to turn them in! 
 We made 2 dozen cupcakes and 2 turkey cakes 
For the turkey cakes I used this mix I was given on my trip to NYC. It's two separate mixes that were the perfect amount for my Wilton bowl pan! The cakes came out moist yet sturdy enough to work with so I had no problem with it falling apart as I tried to ice it. If you love red velvet cake, you'll love this fall inspired version!
I used mini marshmallows for the eyes and drew on them with a food safe marker. For the beak and waddle I raided the kid's Halloween candy and molded starbursts  after heating them in the microwave for a couple seconds.
For the feathered body, all you need to do is make rows of large dots of icing out of a piping bag and then press your spatula or spoon in the middle of the drop of icing and drag it down so it flattens it slightly. I'm sorry I didn't get a pic of that step, but I promise it's super easy! 
The weather was awful, but the kids had fun through the freezing cold drizzle! 
And, we were lucky enough to win two of the class raffle baskets!!
 One basket full of board games and the Yeti cooler, which Louis is over the moon excited about
All packed up and ready to go!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Turkey and Andouille Gumbo

Remember that  turkey I roasted a few days ago? I was so proud of the way it turned out. It was delicious, the house smelled amazing and it looked like I grabbed it out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Most people wouldn't be able to ask for much more than that on a Tuesday night, right?!
Wrong. Way wrong.
Before he was even done eating dinner, and before my son asked for his third serving, my husband was already asking when I was making gumbo with the rest of the turkey. He also asked my son to slow down and eat "other things" so there would be enough turkey left for said gumbo.
I guess that's how a New Orleans boy's mind works.
I specifically remember being young and seeing neighbors bring my grandfather turkey carcasses after Thanksgiving and Christmas. I always thought that was completely normal, and I now realize that it may be a little strange to people that are not from Louisiana to think of bringing your neighbor your picked over bones. Walking out of your house in the morning and people yelling across the street, "Hey man, I got a turkey carcass for ya, I'll bring it by later".
Either way, strange or not, as a kid I loved hearing those words because I knew what was coming next- my grandpa's amazing gumbo.
As I got older and started making gumbo on my own, I took what I loved from Pee Paw's gumbo (my mom's dad) and MoMo's gumbo (my dad's mom) and created my own version. That version was the first recipe that ever got me to a cooking contest, on Food Network of all places, and introduced me to competition cooking. There I made my Chicken, Tasso and Andouille Gumbo
This one is very similar, and I'll show you every step along the way to make it. Get a glass of wine, roll up your sleeves and get ready. While absolutely delicious, this is a bit labor intensive but totally worth every minute!
This is when I take help from my slow cooker. I remove and discard the skin and fat from the turkey, take off any excess breast meat and store it in the fridge, and break down the bones to fit in the slow cooker. Add the neck, 1 large onion cut in half, 2 stalks celery, 3 carrots, 5 garlic cloves, 1 Tablespoon black peppercorns, a healthy amount of salt (don't be stingy), a bay leaf and the stems from 1 bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley (you'll use the tops later in the gumbo) and cover everything with water. I let this go, on low all night long.
The next day when I was ready to start the roux I got out my gumbo pot. It's not pretty or fancy, but it's what MoMo gave me, and somehow that makes it taste better.
I heat 1 cup of vegetable oil over medium heat and add the cubed Andouille and fry it until nicely browned and crisp. I know this is not standard procedure for most, but I do this for a few reasons. First of all, sausage is always better browned and crispy; secondly, while you fry the sausage you are also flavoring the oil which then is used to make your roux.
So there.
Once the sausage is nice and crispy, remove it from the oil and start your roux. I cook my roux until it's a shade between peanut butter and milk chocolate. This usually can be achieved in the time it takes me to finish 1-1 1/2 glasses of wine.
You can thank me later for figuring out the math on that one for you
As soon as your roux reaches your desired color add all the chopped vegetables and stand back. The pot will sizzle and hiss like no other. It will sound alarming, but this is a good thing. While the vegetables cook, strain the stock that you've been making in your slow cooker. Discard all the seasonings and reserve the meat to add in later. Once the vegetables cook for 20 minutes and soften you add your stock, Andouille and seasonings and allow it to simmer at least 2 hours. Sometimes I'll add this back to the slow cooker so I don't have to babysit it.
Remember that roux you made earlier? It's essentially a cup of oil that you flavored with Andouille and then cooked your flour in. After you add the liquids to the pot, the oil that you used to make your roux will separate and rise to the top. Skim it off using a spoon and use it to fry your okra. I am a lucky girl and have a very nice friend that shared her fresh okra with me, but frozen works just fine as well.
Slice the okra and fry it in the oil, stirring constantly until the okra no longer has the slime you see falling off the spoon before adding it to your pot. No one wants slimy gumbo and this step is essential in making sure that doesn't happen.
Once the okra has been cooked and the gumbo has simmered 2 hours, add the okra, turkey, parsley and green onion to the pot. Simmer for 1 hour before serving.

Turkey and Andouille Gumbo
  • 1 pound andouille sausage, chopped
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 pounds shredded Butterball turkey meat
  • 8 cups homemade turkey stock
  • 1 (14-ounce) can Italian stewed tomatoes, pureed
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 16-ounces sliced okra
  • 1/2 bunch green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped

    In a large pot fry Andouille in the vegetable oil until browned. Remove Andouille and set aside.  Whisk in flour and cook until desired color is reached. Add onion, celery, garlic and bell pepper to roux and cook 15 to 20 minutes. Add reserved sausages, stock, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, bay leaves and simmer for 1-2 hours.
    While gumbo is simmering, cook okra on medium heat until no longer stringy. Add turkey, okra, green onion, parsley and salt and pepper, to taste and simmer 1 hour. Serve with rice, hot sauce and file powder to taste.

    This recipe is up for voting HERE and I would love it if you could take a moment and vote for it! My recipe is in the running for Butterball's Cookbook Plus Blogger Contest for a chance to win a $500 Amex gift card and have a feature recipe inside the Butterball Cookbook Plus app!

    Friday, November 14, 2014

    Pumpkin Granola Muffins

    A recent recipe contest I entered required the use of canned pumpkin pie filling, an ingredient that I have never used before. Of course, the only size can available at the store was gargantuan, but I figured it would cost me more to run around to different stores trying to find a smaller can so I went ahead and got it anyway. I was not about to let the rest go to waste and came up with a few delicious ways to use the remainder.
    I found this recipe for Oh-So-Good Pumpkin Granola Muffins on the Libby website and used it as an opportunity to clean out my pantry. I used what I had on hand and my kids and I were very happy with the results. The muffins aren't overly sweet and they are very hearty.
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups granola with raisins- I had one cup of Gingerbread Granola and one cup of Coconut Mango Quinoa granola, so I mixed them and added a handful of raisins at the end
  • 1 can (30 oz.) LIBBY'S® Easy Pumpkin Pie Mix- minus 1 cup
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute- I used 2 whole eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup crushed granola or I used leftover maple glazed pecans for topping
  • I added 2 smashed ripe bananas to make up for the missing pumpkin in the can

  • PREHEAT oven to 400° F. Paper-line 30 muffin cups and spray with non-stick cooking spray

    COMBINE all-purpose and whole-wheat flours, sugar, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Stir in granola. Add pumpkin pie mix, eggs, oil and bananas in another large bowl. Pour pumpkin mixture into flour mixture; stir until just moistened. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle each with crushed granola or pecans.

    BAKE for 15 to 17 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Remove from pans to wire rack; cool slightly. Serve warm or cool to room temperature and place in airtight container.

    oven to 350° F. Spoon batter into two greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Sprinkle with crushed granola. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Talkin' Turkey

    I flew into Austin from Nashville on Tuesday morning and hit the ground running. I went straight from the airport to running errands, lunch with my in-laws and the grocery store.
    Let's talk about lunch first, shall we? We stopped at Pieous, which is a small family run restaurant that specializes in Neapolitan style pizza and it is absolutely divine! The crust gets perfectly charred in their wood burning oven and most of the toppings are made in house. This time we tried the Margherita with Pepperoni,  the Smoky Italian Pizza and the Choppy Salad. This is honestly some of the best pizza I have ever had. I realize that is a pretty big claim and I totally mean it. It will make you moan as you eat it with no shame. If you're ever in the middle of Austin and Dripping Springs, you have to check them out! And call me, cause I'll probably come meet you there.
    After lunch we headed to the grocery. Having been gone for a few days and confirming with my mother in-law that not much food was ready to go at the house I tried to wing it as best I could at the store. I usually plan my meals around what's on sale at the time and this week, the "meal deal" was buy a ham get a turkey for free so that's what I did. I baked the ham with a dijon, brown sugar and peach jam glaze on it for everyone that night, made a huge pot of red beans and rice with the bone from the ham and put the turkey in the fridge to thaw .
    For me, the best thing about a big Turkey dinner is the leftovers! Gumbo, soups, casseroles, sandwiches, the possibilities are endless on what you can turn the rest of your bird into. Most of the time during the holidays we are in New Orleans visiting family or we have visitors staying with us, so we really don't have a "typical" year. It's always just up in the air depending on Louis' work schedule and the kid's school schedule so I was excited to go ahead and make a turkey for us the way I wanted to and not have to share the leftovers!
    I had pinned this recipe for Mayonnaise Roasted Turkey last year and was really excited to finally be able to try it out! I know it may sound strange to some people but I couldn't wait to see the finished product!
    My bird was about 11 1/2 pounds and I pulled it out of the fridge 1 hour before I started to work with it. I pre-heated the oven to 450 degrees and started to make the rub. In a small food processor I combined :
    1 1/2 cup mayonnaise
     the leaves from 3 sprigs of rosemary
    the leaves from 3 sprigs of oregano
    the leaves from 6 sprigs of thyme
    3 cloves of garlic
    the zest of 1 lemon
    1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
    1 Tablespoon black pepper
    Blend these until smooth and spread on the outside, inside the cavity and in between the skin and the breast meat of the bird. Slice the lemon you zested in half and stuff it in the cavity along with a quartered onion and a stalk of celery
    Place the bird in the oven, uncovered for 30 minutes, then tent the bird with foil, lower the heat to 350 degrees and allow to cook until an internal temp of 160 is reached (for me that happened in 1 hour and 45 minutes) Let the bird rest at least 30 minutes before slicing
     Holy Moly was this delicious! The house smelled amazing while it roasted and the meat was tender, juicy and perfectly seasoned. I didn't have to brine it for three days, I didn't have to stand in the cold by the smoker while it cooked and I had no fear of burning my house down from a huge turkey fryer! I call that success. How do you usually prepare your bird? I'd love to hear your tricks and tips!

    Monday, November 10, 2014

    Bake It Till You Make It!

     The morning of the Bake-Off I woke up at 2am, 3:15 am, 4 am and then lastly got up at 6 am. The clock in the hotel room had not been changed since day light savings time so I was constantly thinking I was late and I was super paranoid I would sleep through the bake-off completely since Louis wasn't with me to be sure I was up on time.
    Totally rational, right?
     Downstairs all of the contestants met for breakfast where they had a beautiful spread waiting for us. I could eat none of it and I could barely force down half of my fruit due to excitement and nerves (but mostly nerves)
    We all got on our aprons, turned in all of our belongings since you are not allowed to bring ANYTHING on the floor with you (no phones, lipstick, Kleenex-nada) and were herded into the hallway right outside the Bake-Off floor.  
    I have a bad habit of doing and saying ridiculous things when I'm nervous, and this picture is a perfect example. We were trying to get as many pictures as we could while we still had our cameras and phones on us and I thought it would be just great if the two Laurens did "prom pose"
    The photo is blurry because we were giggling so much and I was two seconds away from falling on my butt in the middle of the floor. My balance is not good when I'm nervous either.
    Glori Spriggs, last year's winner, was there and was so sweet stopping to say Hello to us and giving us encouragement and advice right before the craziness started! The other girls with me are the most beautiful, smart, creative, supportive and talented cooking sisters I could ask for and I was so glad to share this wild experience with them two years in a row! They made my time at the Bake-Off so much more than the competition. 
    After the Grand March into the ballroom we are given 20 minutes at our stations to get settled and start whatever prep is needed. After that time there is an announcement made opening the floor to media, bloggers, the TV crew of The Chew, General Mills, Pillsbury and all of the sponsor execs. Once the gates open, the room is filled with busy energy. It's hard to explain, but the buzz on the floor in those 3 hours is absolutely palpable. 
    I wasn't approached for any interviews in those first 30 minutes since I was tucked in the middle aisle, so I was really able to concentrate and prep everything I needed for all 3 batches and I actually finished my first batch and was ready to turn in my food before anyone else! To be first was not my intention but I knew going in that if a batch looked good, was warm and ready for judging when there was no line to get to the judges table I was going for it. 
    Once I turned in my food to be judged I was able to relax, be ready for interviews and chat for a while with Carla and The Chew crew! Carla is so friendly and bubbly it was really fun talking with her. We had a pretty long interview so I'm interested to see what clips they will use on the show on December 3!
    That evening we had a Blue Carpet moment with the Golden Doughboy before dinner, a dessert buffet and FINALLY the awards announcement
    Of all the meals I had at the Omni, this was my least favorite. I've never been a big fan of mass produced dinners and this one was no different. The pics look way better than it actually tasted.
    After dinner we all moved to another room for the Dessert Buffet
    It was beautiful and strange at the same time
    Blue lights and silver trees were on long tables that highlighted all of these beautiful little desserts
    macaroons, caramels, candies, cookies
    that were literally dumped it the middle for us to pick through
    They were absolutely delicious, but I thought it was kind of funny to spend such a long time in the kitchen making a petit four and then throwing it right on top of a pile of other beautiful bites that seemed to just look muddled together when presented like this
    After getting our sugar high on we all went into the awards ceremony. The band that played was awesome and Carla was the perfect hostess
    Unfortunately, this was not my year and I wasn't chosen for the top four, but I still walk away with an amazing experience that money couldn't buy and a pretty generous finalist package
    Below are the lucky top 4 which are now up for online voting until the big reveal on The Chew on December 3rd
    Beth Royal's Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters got my vote, but would you choose the same? Do you prefer the quick dinner Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets, breakfast choice of Chocolate Doughnut Poppers or the Creamy Corn-Filled Sweet Peppers?
    Vote Here and let me know what you think! I can't wait to see who comes out on top!

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    Nashville, TN and 5,000 Pictures

     My trip to the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off started out beautifully! I got a free show on the plane and was able to watch the sunrise. Totally breathtaking! In that moment I felt so grateful to be where I was.
     When I landed and checked my phone I got butterflies when I saw that Pillsbury was wishing me luck!
    One thing I love about the Bake-Off is the way they treat the finalists. They really make each and every one of us feel special. These nice ladies were waiting for me at baggage claim and were ready to whisk me away to the Omni Hotel
     I arrived around 8am, so my room wasn't ready yet. I checked my bags and went upstairs to the ballrooms to be nosy and see what was already set up for us. The wall of our recipes was up and I found mine hiding in there
    One of the best things about this crazy hobby I have is the friends you make along the way. One of them is named Lauren as well and we met last year in Vegas for the Bake Off. We keep in touch on facebook, support each other in other contests and we each understand the crazy thought process and obsessions that are all a part of the recipe creating process.
    I sent her a text as soon as I got there so we could meet for breakfast and we made our way to Kitchen Notes, the hotel restaurant and I was SO excited to try their Biscuit Bar! Three different flavored biscuits, jams, honey and butters galore
     There were beautiful cheese platters, fruit platters and, of course, sausage gravy for the biscuits
    We had fun catching up over breakfast and I was so glad to have a friend to share the excitement of the coming weekend with.
    I finally got word that my room was ready and it was absolutely beautiful!! The TV was on and welcoming me when I opened the door, the bathroom was nicer than the one at my house, the closet lights come on when you open it and I had a King size bed that was all mine
    When you check in with the Bake Off employees you are given a goodie bag loaded with all kinds of things from Pillsbury and their sponsor companies. Included in the bag was the "Big Book of Easy Baking" and guess what I found inside?!
    My entry from last year!
    I made my way downstairs for the Finalist meeting and Picture
    It's always fun to walk into that room and see the Bake Off floor for the first time and I was happy to see so many familiar faces from last year's contest!
    They wouldn't tell us the exact number but a fellow finalist did overhear a General Mills employee say that there were 65,000 entries this year. Isn't that crazy?!
    I feel so lucky to have made it through the entire screening process and to have gotten a finalist spot two years in a row! After the meeting and pictures I headed to a Cocktail Hour that HEB invited me to
     and then went to the Dinner Reception next door. It was absolutely beautiful! They had a band playing, cute string lights all over, a bar

     a fried pickle station
     the cutest little grilled pimento cheese sandwiches you ever did see
     Shrimp and Grits Cakes
     A gorgeous grilled veggie station
     and the highlight of the night was the dessert drinks! Liquid Nitrogen was poured into mixers to create frozen Irish Cream that you could top with sparkling water, chocolate sauce, caramel and assorted toppings. It was absolutely delicious!!
    Not ready for the night to end yet, a few of us headed down to the Hotel Lobby to have a drink and catch up. I got the Champagne Cobbler- a mix of raspberry vodka, muddled strawberries, lemon juice and a splash of Chandon Rose
    It was the perfect way to end the night- a delicious drink, hilarious sweet friends and a toast to our big day to come!