Foodbuzz 24×24: The Best Things We Ever Ate

IMG_1943

Summer officially started last Monday. However, being in Louisiana, we’ve been feeling summer-like weather since May. With the heat index hitting 110 degrees sometimes, we wanted to throw a summer party that was most definitely indoors!

I watch entirely too much Food Network. If it wasn’t for Food Network and reading food blogs, I’m fairly certain my husband and I would be living off of Hamburger Helper and take-out. One of my favorite shows lately has been The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Every show has a theme, and it features the cooks/hosts on Food Network and their favorite eats in that theme. So, when Foodbuzz emailed about this month’s 24×24 proposals, I figured it would be a fun party to feature the best things our families have eaten! Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for sponsoring this party! :)

To come up with the menu, I sent out an email to our families asking for their favorites in each category.

  • On the Grill (recipes that are done on the BBQ)
  • Dangerously Cheesy (major cheese in a dish)
  • No Utensils (finger foods/apps)
  • Keep it Comfy (comfort food)
  • Frozen Treats (any dessert from the freezer)
  • Mix it Up (a food that requires using a mixer—doesn’t have to be a sweet)
  • Louisiana’s Best (Louisiana food)
  • Cold and Colorful (like a salad or cold app with lots of veggies or fruit)
  • Under the Sea (favorite seafood dish)
  • Classic American (with 4th of July approaching, tell me a dish that screams American)

After getting many responses, here is the menu we came up with:

Drinks:
Strawberry Lemonade
Strawberry Daiquiris

Appetizers:
Cheese Fondue with Vegetables/Bread*
Bruschetta*
Boudin Balls

Entrees:
Steak Skewers with Chimichurri, Onion Cheese Sauce and Compound Butter*
Spicy BBQ Shrimp Skewers*

Sides:
Crawfish Fettuccine
Macaroni and Cheese
Vegetable Skewers*
Grilled Corn
Lettuce Greens with Honey Lime Vinaigrette

Desserts:
Strawberry Cake*
Assorted Cupcakes
Cinnamon Crumb Apple Pie
Fresh Berries with Ice Cream

* recipes will be featured in the blog in future posts

I will admit, I’m still getting the hang of entertaining for a large number of people. Despite doing a lot of prep, I felt fairly stressed in the last hour. Since the party was for family, though, I had loads of help at the last minute. :) Whew!

The fondue was an absolute hit. I was nervous to make this myself, but this recipe came together beautifully! I served the fondue with day old po’boy bread, carrots and broccoli.

IMG_1962

We purchased the boudin balls at a local joint, since they are pretty much my husband’s favorite. The bruschetta was a lighter alternative to the other appetizers. I was super excited to use basil from our garden for this dish!

Appetizers

I need to thank the hubs for braving the sweltering disgusting heat to cook up this magic on the grill. The steak, especially was a real winner to family!

kabobs

We made 3 sauces available for people to dip/cover their skewers in: a chimichurri, onion blue cheese (not pictured) and a worchestershire chive butter. The chimichurri ended up being a huge hit (and I used parsley from the garden for it)!

Steak Butter/Chimichurri

Here is some lovely grilled corn that survived a few flare-ups on the grill. :)

Grilled Corn

Here is a semi-decent picture of the crawfish fettuccine before everyone digged in. The hubs’ parents made this dish and it was delicious. Perfect flavor with a little Louisiana kick!

Crawfish Fettucine

This is some macaroni and cheese that is my mother-in-law’s favorite. It was definitely pretty tasty (not to mention, cheesy). :)

Mac and Cheese

After enjoying some serious eats, we waited a good while before putting out desserts and just chatted, watched TV and played some games.

I will say the desserts were absolutely amazing.

Fresh berries (and ice cream, not pictured)

berries

Strawberry Cake (inspired by a local bakery). I would have just purchased one, but I had no idea an 8″ cake was over $30. What the heck?! I guess I’m just used to baking my own cakes to realize how expensive cakes have gotten!

Strawberry Cake

This was a welcomed surprise. A local cupcake bakery occasionally has giveaways on Twitter, and I won some cupcakes! They were seriously delish! Thank you Sweet Wishes Cafe!

Cupcakes

Here is the cinnamon crumb apple pie. This is one of those frozen pies you can find in the grocery store, but has quickly become a favorite with my hubs’ family.

apple pie

Of course, our puppy was very excited to get all of the attention she got at the party, and thanks to my mom, she tried a piece of steak for the first time. I think she enjoyed it. :)

IMG_1965

And of course, it wouldn’t be a party without family! Here are some pictures of our family.

Mom and Sis

family

IMG_1974

It was a great time to be had by everyone, especially in the milder indoors. Thank you so much to Foodbuzz again for the party! Everyone had a blast! :)

Kiwi Pineapple Sorbet

Kiwi Pineapple Sorbet

I love summer. The fruit is just so gorgeous, delicious and heck, dirt cheap. Last weekend, I raided the produce stand for fruits. I had some leftover after snacking on a good bit, and thought about a sorbet. I had mango, pineapple and kiwi left, but I was pretty sure the color of that would be unattractive.

So, I asked my friends on Twitter what they thought. Mango/Pineapple or Kiwi/Pineapple? Mango/Pineapple won BIG time. However, upon coming home, I cut into the mango and it wasn’t ripe at all. :( So, I ended up making Kiwi/Pineapple instead. I’m not sad about it, because I think this sorbet is really cute with the little kiwi seeds in it.

This is the first sorbet that I’ve had that is creamy in texture, and really soft to scoop straight out of the freezer. It’s also a delicious flavor combination, so don’t let the neon green highlighter appearance deter you away.

Kiwi Pineapple Sorbet
Source: adapted from Cooking Light

Ingredients:

  • 1 small pineapple, cored and cut in chunks
  • 2 kiwis, peeled
  • 1 cup sugar
  • juice of one lemon

Directions:

  1. Place pineapple, kiwi and lemon juice in a food processor; process until smooth. Add sugar; process 1 minute or until sugar dissolves.
  2. Pour mixture into an ice cream maker and let the machine run for 25-30 minutes. Freeze for 1-2 hours to set the sorbet.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread

Banana Choc. Chip Bread

When I was a cashier in high school, we had to learn PLU (product look up) codes to ring up produce. The first code I knew was bananas (it is 4011 in case you are wondering…type that code in at a self check-out and see what happens). Why? Because almost every shopping cart has bananas. They are delicious, cheap and very nutritious.

Every week, I buy my husband and I a bunch of bananas. Most of the time, we finish them, but sometimes, I forget about them. Of course when I forget about them, they become this unappetizing brown color from overriping, but fear not, when they are that overripe, they are PERFECT for baking!

This past week, we had 3 bananas that got too ripe for snacking on, and I decided to made some banana bread. I’ve made it before, but decided to give Baking Illustrated’s version a shot, since they never steer me wrong. This was the winner. If you want to try a banana bread recipe from this blog, make this one first! It’s so unbelievably moist, flavorful and light (since I subbed the butter out for applesauce). Plus, this is another recipe that you don’t need the KA for. A simple wooden spoon and 2 bowls will suffice. Your breakfast will never be the same either.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
Source: adapted from Baking Illustrated

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 very ripe, soft, darkly speckled large bananas, mashed well (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten lightly
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C) degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan; dust with flour, tapping out the excess.
  2. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips together in a large bowl; set aside.
  3. Mix the bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, and vanilla with a wooden spoon in a medium bowl. Lightly fold the banana mixture into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just combined and the batter looks thick and chunky. Do NOT overmix! Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
  4. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. (The bread can be wrapped with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.)

Louisiana Strawberry Jam

Louisiana Strawberry Jam

When I was 5 years old, I remember sharing some strawberry ice cream with my grandmother. Much to my surprise, I broke out in a horrible case of hives. I developed an allergy to my favorite fruit! For years, I’d block out this delicious fruit from my vision. I feared strawberries, but was secretly jealous of my siblings who were able to happily enjoy them. In Louisiana, the strawberries are grown locally, so they are just amazingly flavorful and sweet.

By the time I was in high school, I grew tired of it.  I remember holding a bowl of strawberries, lightly sweetened with sugar, in front of me. I told my Mom to have the first aid spray handy, because I wanted to see if my strawberry allergy was only a childhood allergy. I wolfed down the bowl, waited…waited…and the next day, I was still OK. Thank goodness!! I could eat strawberries again! I think I went through half a flat that day, just to make up for the years of lost opportunities with this tasty berry.

Every time April rolls around, I have to have a flat of them. This year, I decided to make some homemade jam. I wasn’t as intimidated this time, because I have canned before. This was easy to put together, and from the foamy jelly I skimmed off after cooking the jam up, I will say this stuff is REALLY tasty. Smuckers can’t touch this! :)

For canning, I use this kit. I find all of the tools in there almost essential for easy and safe canning.

Before you begin canning,  I recommend this website, since this explains in detail how to can safely. The recipe below is considered “high acid canning”.  I also purchased this book, which also has all of the directions for canning and bonus, has quite a few more recipes than their website provides.

Louisiana Strawberry Jam
Source: Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts fresh strawberries
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 7 cups sugar

Directions:

  1. Wash strawberries and drain. Remove the stems and crush strawberries a few at a time (I place them on a cookie sheet and used a fork to mash).
  2. Combine strawberries, lemon juice and powdered pectin in a pot. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Add in the sugar and stir until the mixture is dissolved. Bring this to a rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off foam, if there is any (I used a slotted spoon to do this).
  3. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps, and process for 10 (for half pints)-15 (for pints) minutes in a boiling water canner.

Makes 4 pint or 8 half pint jars.

Autumn Spiced Ham

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope everyone has a fabulous holiday with their family and closest of friends.

I can’t wait to share with all of you my kitchen adventures for hosting our first Thanksgiving dinner. Things so far are on schedule, surprisingly, so I’m sure tomorrow won’t be too stressful in the kitchen. It will be great to see family for the first time since the wedding in May. :)

The recipe above, by the way, is a great idea for leftover ham. I love how easy this recipe is and how it just screams Fall season. Check out the recipe here.

Banana Bread

banana bread1

I always make sure to have some fruit options at home. This past week, I realized that I overlooked a small bunch of bananas which were ripening quickly, so I knew it was time to make some banana bread. The last time I made banana bread, I wasn’t very impressed, so I tried another recipe. This one was much better!

Banana Bread
adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together applesauce and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

The Skinny – per serving, serves 12

Calories: 184.5
Fat: 1.3 g
Fiber: 1.7 g

banana bread

Blueberry Crumb Bars

IMG_0341

For the What’s Cooking Ingredient Challenge, the challenge ingredient was blueberry. Since the grocery store had blueberries on a good sale, I bought a pint and decided to make the Blueberry Crumb Bars from Smitten Kitchen.

I made these in a half batch since I didn’t have a quart of berries and plus, I’m usually hesitant with any desserts involving lemon. I hate lemony desserts. I know…weird. :)

These bars were pretty good, but I still noticed lemon and I think that’s what probably made the dessert not as tasty to me. Next time I make these, I’ll omit the lemon.

Blueberry Crumb Bars (halved)
Source: Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold butter (1 sticks or 4 ounces)
1 egg white
1 pinch of salt
Zest and juice of one half lemon
2 cups fresh blueberries
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 8×8 inch pan.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar,  flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg white. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

3. In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Gently mix in the blueberries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

4. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Yields: 16 squares

Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins

IMG_0277_1024

I love blueberries. I’m especially happy that it’s blueberry season, because they are super cheap and fairly local. Local fruit is the best!

I’ve been wanting to make blueberry muffins for quite a while, but I also didn’t want them to be high in calories/fat either. So, I skinny-fied a highly rated recipe on Food Network. Is it any surprise that Ina’s recipe is the highest rated? So, of course, I’m going to play with her recipe.

Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins
Source: adapted from Ina Garten

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup no-sugar added applesauce
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (could have used half splenda/half sugar but I was out)
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 8 ounces fat free sour cream
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 half-pints fresh blueberries, picked through for stems

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place paper liners in muffin pans.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add in applesauce and mix together until blended. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, then add the vanilla, sour cream, and milk. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low speed add the flour mixture to the batter and beat until just mixed. Fold in the blueberries with a spatula and be sure the batter is completely mixed.
  3. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup just over the top, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the muffins are lightly browned on top and a cake tester comes out clean.

Yields 24 muffins.

Nutritional Facts:
Calories: 144, Fat: 2.9 g, Fiber: 0.8 g
POINTS*: 3

Do you want to compare to Ina’s original recipe?
Calories: 218, Fat: 12.5 g, Fiber: 0.7 g
POINTS*: 5

Watermelon Sorbet

watermelon1

I’ve been looking at watermelons in the stores a lot lately. It’s so hot outside (100+ degrees – heat index) and a nice, refreshing watermelon was what I was craving!

So, I went to the local produce stand and bought my first watermelon of the summer. I was having company over last night and wanted to end the meal on a lighter note. I was originally looking at The Perfect Scoop for inspiration, but I didn’t have limes. I was afraid to use lemons instead, but found this Alton Brown recipe on Joelen’s blog. It used lemons! YAY!

I’ve never cut up a watermelon, so I was sure that I was going to make a juicy mess. It wasn’t all that bad, but look at how GORGEOUS and ripe this watermelon was…mmm!
IMG_0262
The verdict? This was a light, refreshing sorbet and a definite MUST for the summer! Seriously make this for your 4th of July party! Your guests won’t be disappointed! Also, it’s (along with other fruit sorbets) VERY skinny, especially if you made this with Splenda, which I didn’t have on hand at the time. :)

I’m submitting this to Joelen’s monthly Tasty Tools event, which features the ice cream maker! I’m sure there will be a ton of great summer treats for this blogging event so definitely start following her blog if you haven’t already!

Watermelon Sorbet
Source: Alton Brown -  found on Joelen’s Culinary Adventures

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound, 5 ounces diced watermelon, muskmelon or honeydew
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons vodka (omitted)
  • 9 ounces sugar, approximately 1 1/4 cups

Directions:

  1. Place the melon in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vodka, and sugar and process for another 30 seconds. Place the mixture into the refrigerator until the mixture reaches 40 degrees F; depending on the temperature of your ingredients and refrigerator, this could take 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Pour the chilled mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Makes 12 (1/2 cup) servings.
(I added a little too much melon than stated, and it was overflowing in the ice cream maker, so I estimated based on 1.5 quarts yielded instead of Alton Brown mentioning this yields 1 qt.)

Calories: 112, Fat: 0.4g, Fiber: 0.5g
POINTS*: 2

Cuccidati (Italian Fig Cookies)

img_7287
(Yeah, those are Christmas sprinkles. I was too lazy to go get regular nonpareils!!)

These are my ultimate childhood memory. I love these cookies more than words can say, and I heavily depended on one bakery to give me these cookies 364 days/year.  The other day, March 19, I could depend on a St. Joseph’s altar for these tasty treats. My dad is half Sicilian, so of course, he got me stuck on italian cookies early on.

I decided around Christmas to look up this recipe, because I wanted a challenge in baking. If it didn’t work out, I still had my trusty Italian bakery. If it did, though, there would definitely be a mini-baking victory in order! Let’s just say  there’s a mini-baking victory in order! These cookies came out JUST like the ones I know to love!

Cuccidati
Source: Gourmet through Epicurious

Ingredients

For filling

  • 1 cup packed soft dried Mission figs (8 oz), hard tips discarded
  • 3/4 cup raisins (3 3/4 oz)
  • 3/4 cup mild honey
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest (used Meyer Lemon zest)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (for next time, this will be omitted.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup whole almonds (4 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup walnuts (3 oz), toasted and coarsely chopped
    **For the nuts, I toasted and food processed them into a powder, since I never noticed nuts in cuccidati filling before.**

For pastry dough

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh orange or lemon zest

For icing
(didn’t use this for the recipe. The cuccidati that I’ve eaten have only had nonpareils on them.)

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • Garnish: multicolored nonpareils

Directions:

Make filling:

  • Pulse figs and raisins (and nuts) in a food processor until finely chopped, then stir together with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl. Chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

img_7270
Look at those pretty dried figs.

img_7275
Fig filling. Mmm…

Make dough:

  • Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and blend with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse in a food processor) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Add eggs, milk, vanilla, and zest and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms. Halve dough and gather each half into a ball, then flatten each half into a rough 6- by 4-inch rectangle between sheets of plastic wrap. Chill until firm, at least 8 hours.

Form cookies:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Roll out 1 rectangle of dough (keep remaining dough chilled) into a 15- by 14-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Trim to a 13- by 10-inch rectangle (chill trimmings), then cut into 4 (10- by 3 1/4-inch) strips. Arrange 1/3 cup filling in a 1-inch-wide log lengthwise down center of each strip, then fold sides of each strip up over filling to enclose it, pinching edges together to seal. Turn rolls seam-sides down and press gently to flatten seams. Cut logs crosswise with a floured knife into 1 1/2-inch-wide slices and arrange 1/2 inch apart on buttered large baking sheets. Make more cookies in same manner with remaining chilled dough, trimmings (reroll once), and filling.

**Just a note. This dough becomes very sticky when room temperature. So roll this dough out as quickly as possible. I did this between wax paper sheets, flipping the dough often. **

img_7276
Adding fillingimg_7277
Rolling dough
img_7279
Slicing cookies

  • Bake cookies in batches in middle of oven until golden around edges, 16 to 20 minutes. Transfer cookies to racks and cool until warm, about 10 minutes. Make icing while cookies bake.
  • Whisk together confectioners sugar, vanilla, and enough orange juice to make a pourable icing.
  • Brush icing on warm cookies and decorate with nonpareils (if using), then cool completely.

Notes:

• Filling can be made 1 week ahead and chilled, covered.

• Dough can be chilled, wrapped in plastic wrap and then foil, up to 3 days.

• Cookies keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment paper, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

I’m submitting this post to this month’s Tasty Tools events from Joelen’s Culinary Adventures! Go check out her blog for other fun challenges!!