We Are Not the Champions – World Cup Party

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.
-Vince Lombardi

 

Sadly, this post is far less exuberant than it would have been if USA was able to pull off a win against Belgium in the World Cup’s round of 16. It is a much easier pill to swallow than if we hadn’t made it out of the group, so there is that, but it still stings. To kick off the America’s first game of the 2014 World Cup we invited some friends over for a jolly good time supporting the Yanks.

It's A Party!

It’s A Party!

The only tricky part about the whole shindig, was that the game was at 6pm on a Monday night. That means minimal time to prep after work, and it is a bit trickier to get people to come over on Monday after a weekend of frolicking. Knowing all of this I kept it super simple and had everything made and prepared the night before. I learned a great tip from Life With a Dash of Whimsy to set your plates out before with little slips of paper letting you know what each will contain and how it will be arranged the night before. This was the first time I ever truly implemented the plan, and man it worked like magic! I can’t tell you the amount of time and stress I saved by having the aesthetics worked out on the front end. I also think it is a great way to make sure you don’t forget anything, if everything has a bowl/plate and a home where it will go once the party starts it is much harder to simply leave it in the fridge. With everything prepped before hand I was able to get home at 5:15 and be ready to go in 30 minutes. That may be the first time I was ever ready early.

 

An Outlaw at Heart

An Outlaw at Heart

With everyone arrived and ready to cheer on the team it was time to settle in for a stressful 90 minutes. The little concerned party goer  above was either nervous about the game, or that he would be forever documented in a jaunty scarf online…I think it was the game, but who knows.

The Setup

The Setup

As you can tell, I really went all out, no expenses spared. Just kidding, all expenses were spared. I picked up an American flag banner at a certain craft store that shall not be named for about $3 and called it a day.

Walking Tacos

Walking Tacos

The main course, which will soon be seen at our tailgates, was a walking taco bar. It is hard to imagine anything easier and more delightfully delicious than a bag of fritos filled with ground beef, cheese, green onions, salsa, and sour cream. Okay, that is a lie, I can imagine a multitude of tastier things, but when it comes to grab and go this is tops. I made the seasoned beef and chopped the green onions the night before. Everything else was just dumped into bowls right before everyone arrived. One trick to perfecting the Waco (walking taco) is getting the small 2 for $1 bags of Fritos. I found them at the front of the grocery store in front of one of the check out lines. Once you have everything prepared you simply snip off the top and let people adorn their taco as they see fit. You could easily turn this into a vegetarian option by including black beans and/or boca crumbles in the topping bar.

Halftime Snacks

Halftime Snacks

It wouldn’t be a soccer match without CapriSuns and orange slices at half time. I am happy to report I can still pierce a CapriSun with a straw with ease. I would dare say it has been a solid 15 years since the last time I enjoyed this tasty treat. Turns out, it is a far smaller drink then I remembered (or maybe I was stress drinking it), and the bottom of it is clear. I guess they just wanted you to be able to look that questionable “juice” in the eyes before you enjoy it.

Cake Pops!

Cake Pops!

 

Last but not least, it was the second annual eating of the cake pops. I have now made them for the past two USA World Cup parties, and we not lost each time, so a tradition it shall become. I am in awe of anyone who can make a pretty cake pop without uttering a curse word. I swear these baked goods were invented by the devil, who has delicious taste, but torturous intentions. This attempt fared far better than the batch 4 years ago did, probably because I followed the instructions to a tee, but I still think they look sloppy and sad. Despite this somewhat failed attempt, these red, white (on the inside), and blue funfetti cake pops were a hit and a tradition is renewed.

Its a shame USA didn’t make it any further, but then again I would have had to make more cake pops…

NYE Engagement Party

We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

For auld lang syne.”

– Robert Burns

 

What quote do you use for a post about a New Year’s Eve engagement party? Well something from Auld Lang Syne of course…until you read the lyrics to that song and it makes you sad and you realize that it is a terrible idea. “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon; the flames of love extinguished and fully past and gone: Is thy sweet heart now grown so cold that loving breast of thine.” Oh my god, why do we sing that to start off a New Year, total bummer, and so not appropriate for celebrating my favorite couple.

Wade and Jamie are nice enough to be gettin married on New Year’s Eve and provide me a theme on a platter. Knowing that Jamie loves all things glitter, and is going with a black and gold theme gave me a great jumping off point for the invitation and signs. Just as a reminder, these are the invitations we sent out:

 

 

Engagement Party Invite

Engagement Party Invite

 

Unfortunately, due to some private family matters, I did a horrible job documenting my favorite party to date, due to just running out of time and the intense desire to just focus on the people we were with. Good times were had, photographs were not. On that note, I wish I had documented all of the little grocery store sparklers I stuck in our front door wreath and in the lighted branches on the food table .

bad wreaath

World’s Ugliest Wreath

 

Why does this picture look so awful? Probably because it is a) a bad picture of the wreath itself, that I just happened to already have on my phone, b) because I made clip art sparklers in 5 minutes and then slapped them all over the wreath, or c) all of the above. Let’s say it together… “C”! So yes, it looked much cuter in person, and it made me really happy with my wreath crafting choice, because it is basic, but easy to add a little touch to incorporate it into the theme.

The Lovely Lady Party Goers

The Lovely Lady Party Goers

On to food!

Clearly, if one is hosting a New Year’s Eve themed occasion, collard greens and black-eyed peas are a necessity. In order to round out the menu  for a dinner time gathering I made pulled pork barbecue for sandwhiching (not a word, but it should be), caprese salad and a cheese and meat board.

It was a hot evening on the porch so I knew I wanted to keep as many things on the cold side of the food temperature spectrum as possible. My absolute favorite way to eat collards is the marinated collard green salad from Whole Foods. Somehow, I decided it was easier to make it myself than to go to Whole Foods and just buy it. I think I just didn’t want to go to one more store. I had already been to Target, Kroger and Trader Joe’s and it just felt excessive. I found a copycat recipe on Pinterest, and while it wasn’t a dead ringer it was pretty good! You can link to the recipe  by clicking on the picture below.

Marinated Collard Greens

Marinated Collard Greens

 

The black-eyed peas were also a cold preparation. I made a version, of what we call “Dank” in our house, which is basically an amalgamation of beans, corn, pepper, onions and seasonings. This recipe called for feta, which is always a good idea, and had a more complicated seasoning component. While it was tasty I would way scale back on the sugar. The recipe (again, linked in the photo) calls for a quarter cup of sugar, I think you maybe need a tablespoon or two, but no more than that. Another quick tip, canned black-eyed peas are not in the bean section of most grocery stores, they are in the canned veggie area. I was devastated thinking that I might have to scrap such a traditional NYE element and then low and behold I found them mingling with the vegetables.

Black-Eyed Pea Salsa

Black-Eyed Pea Salsa

Jamie’s lovely mom (Hi Rose!), made an awesome cake for dessert, that I can’t decide if it makes me want to get better at cake baking/decorating, or just quit forever knowing that it just isn’t in the cards for me. At one point this cake stood, but in order to make everyone feel less envious it decided to sit for the evening. Either way, it was as equally delicious as it was perfectly cute.

Cake Cutting Practice

Cake Cutting Practice

 

While the party didn’t quite last until midnight, everyone got a midnight kiss. Btw, I am fully aware of just how cheesy that last sentence is, and I love every bit of it. (see kisses below)

 

Midnight Kisses

Midnight Kisses

So as you can tell, a good time was had by all. So good in fact, that there were barely any pictures to show for it! Now we are just counting down until the real New Year’s Eve, and what is sure to be a wedding celebration for the ages! Cheers to Jamie and Wade!

The Philly Fakeout

The best friend will probably acquire the best wife, because a good marriage is founded on the talent for friendship.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I got to be in on one of my best friends secrets. Not a little secret either. A big one. A life altering one. Oh, and a happy one too. Those are always the best.

With the intention of asking his perfectly wonderful girlfriend to marry him earlier in the day in the near future, my friend asked for my help planning a gathering for family and friends to come together and celebrate. Offering me an in on a secret and the opportunity to host a gathering? I was obviously game!

We had to start by getting guests to save the date. Luckily, my friend has a birthday coming up, and I was just going to happen to be out of town the week leading up to his actual birthday. The obvious ploy was to throw Wade a birthday party. Now that we had our excuse to invite people I just needed an invitation to send.

Wade's BDay Blog

Happy 30th!

30th birthday invites for males are kind of tricky. I wanted it to be visually appealing without being cheesy, and knowing that this was just a place holder invite I didn’t want to spend too much time on it. Ultimately, I just downloaded a simple chalkboard background and a few fun fonts. Simple and easy, but bold and it draws lots of attention to the fact he is turning 30!

Luckily, everyone seemed to take the bait and we got the date on their calenders. With the placeholder invite out of the way, I could work on a much more exciting invitation.

Engagement Party Invite

Engagement Party Invite

This is, by far, the most fun invitation I have made to date. Not only are there sparkles, but it is for their engagement party!

As you might have already figured out, that ring was just burning a hole in his pocket and Thursday just wasn’t coming soon enough. On Sunday afternoon, under the guise of going for a run Wade led Jamie under a pair of ancient oak trees on her mother’s property and asked her to marry him.

The question.

The question.

 

Needless to say, B and I are over the moon excited for them, and eager for Thursday to arrive to celebrate them fully. Congratulations to them both!

Wade, we couldn’t be happier for you. You came into our lives about 5 years ago and instantly became part of our family, we cannot thank you enough for finding someone that fits just as easily into our lives. I know that sounds totally selfish, and it is, but it is a bit more. You found someone you can be yourself around, someone that required no pretense. Someone who would love and appreciate every little thing about you from your fanatical but fleeting obsession with restaurants to your unfailing loyalty and integrity.

Jamie, we are so excited to officially welcome you into the little family Brandon and I have made for ourselves in Columbia, even though, you were in from the start. From the first time we officially met I knew that you just had to meet Wade, and it didn’t hurt that you were tall. 🙂 Brandon and I are so thankful for your friendship, but mostly, how happy you have made Wade.

Now let’s celebrate!

 

Grading Draughts at the Draft

“Take a chance on me
Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie
If you put me to the test, if you let me try
Take a chance on me” -Abba

 

Now that the Draft is over it is time to do what any good draft analyst would do. Let’s grade Draughts at the Draft!

BINGO!

BINGO!

Please pardon the picture quality. I might have realized after half of the food was gone and the draft was well underway that I have restarted this whole blogging thing, and that blogs are way cooler with photos.  Now that that is out of the way, let’s get to the food!

Johnny Football’s Signature Chips and Salsa:

Proliferation of Vikings Paraphernalia and Johnny Football's Signature Chips and Salsa

Proliferation of Vikings Paraphernalia and Johnny Football’s Signature Chips and Salsa

Player’s Overall Draft Pick: 22

Player Inspired Menu item Grade: B

Obviously, chips and salsa are a clear winner any day of the week. My highfalutin dreams of making my own salsa went out the window when I was derailed by rather intense back pain. That being said, refrigerator section salsa from the grocery store isn’t too shabby, and made for an easy fan favorite. You might notice in the picture above I recognized that you, the reader, know what chips and salsa look like, and you would obviously rather see some pretty awesome Vikings schwag. You’re welcome. One more side note, I was able to take a deep breath and relax when the Vikes so wisely chose to skip over picking up Johnny with the 8th/9th pick.

What’s Eating Justin Gilbert’s Grape Crostinis:

Justin Gilbert's Grape Crostinis

Justin Gilbert’s Grape Crostinis

Player’s Overall Draft Pick: 8

Player Inspired Menu item Grade: A

I think this was quite possibly the winner of the night. I have linked the recipe to the picture in case you would like try it yourself. This little bite of deliciousness hit all of the right notes, there was salty, sweet, tart, cheese and carbohydrates. Okay, cheese and carbs aren’t really notes, but they are usually key to an excellent app. This is another quick recipe that just requires a little assembly, but the flavors come together for a real punch of flavor. I have a multitude of  ideas for how I can incorporate roasted grapes into more dishes…so be on the look out.

Blake Bortelaise Mushroom Cups:

Blake Borttelaise Cups

Blake Borttelaise Cups

Player’s Overall Draft Pick: 3

Player Inspired Menu item Grade: B+

Things I learned, bordelaise sauce is not something you want to whip up for a small football themed party. Luckily, this became abundantly clear when I looked at the recipe and saw veal bones listed as an ingredient. I quickly scrapped my original plan and instead went for a minced mushroom and Gorgonzola cup. I am not sure I am ready to share the recipe yet, because I think it is not quite there, but I will give you the gist.

While onion was caramelizing in a pan with olive oil, I threw fresh mushrooms in my blender till I had tiny mushroom chunks. Once the onions were nice and brown I added the mushrooms, a bit of fresh thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Once everything was browned I deglazed the pan with a good swig of white wine and stirred till evaporated. The now completed mushroom mixture went into the phyllo cups and was topped with crumbled Gorgonzola cheese and thrown into a 400° oven to melt the cheese.

They ended up disappearing over the course of the night, but next time I am thinking of maybe adding sour cream or something slightly saucy to loosen up the consistency, like bordelaise sauce…

 

Sammy Watkins’ “Special Brownies”:

 

Sammy's Special Brownies

Sammy’s Special Brownies

Player’s Overall Draft Pick: 4

Player Inspired Menu item Grade: A-

It is hard to beat a brownie. It is harder to beat a box mix brownie. So once again, despite my best intentions I let my back win out and took a shortcut with the box mix. The only special part of these brownies were the sprinkles added on top and a few extra chocolate chips that got thrown into the batter. The only reason these are an A- is that I didn’t make them from scratch, I am a tough self-grader.

 

Anthony “Cookie” Barrs

Anthony "Cookie" Barrs

Anthony “Cookie” Barrs

Player’s Overall Draft Pick: 9

Player Inspired Menu item Grade: B-

You might be able to tell from the picture that these were a goopy mess. I am now terrified because Anthony Barr was the Vikings draft pick, and his inspired food was the only one that didn’t turn out. I am now hoping and praying that I didn’t just jinx our pick. Despite the fact that I baked these for an additional 15 minutes and put them in the freezer afterwards, they refused to firm up. I am not sure if I missed something in the recipe or went too crazy when adding the condensed milk, but these were the messiest non-bar, bars ever made. They ended up actually being super tasty and between the gathering on Thursday and a few hours in my office’s break room they were devoured. Granted, I could put worms dipped in chocolate and rolled in Cheetos in the break room and they would be gone by days end. I am still considering this not a total failure. If you would like to take your own stab at making them (I know, I have totally sold you on how easy they are to make) I have included a link with the picture.

 

Thanks so much to everyone how came over to enjoy my favorite holiday sports event, and those who virtually partook! Only 115 days till we get to see these newly minted NFL players on the field. Here’s hoping Anthony Barr will turn out!

Draughts at the Draft

These little town blues
Are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
– Frank Sinatra

 

Image

 

The NFL Draft is my sports Christmas. The pagentry. The suspense. The crazy suits. You just can’t beat it. Last year was our inaugural Draughts at the Draft party, and I am so excited for the second installment. This year themed food and Bingo have been added to the mix. I wanted to share what I am working on before the event in case you would like to select a bingo card and play along at home or print some off for your own gathering.

 

NFL Draft Bingo Board

NFL Draft Bingo Board

Draft Bingo – click for 16 printable bingo boards

My current plan is to serve several 1st round draftee inspired dishes, all of which have a link to my Pinterest inspiration.

Sammy Watkins “Special Brownies”

Anthony Cookie Barrs

Johnny Football’s “Signature” Chips and Salsa

Blake Bortleaise Toasts – this doesn’t have a clear connection to the pin I posted, but how can you not make something with Bordelaise when the kids last name is Bortles?!

Justin Gilbert Grape, Blue Cheese & Honey Crostini

So that’s the plan, I will post pictures hopefully on Friday and let you know how it all worked out.

Everyone loves a party…

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8/Pete Seeger

 

I have had a bit of an epiphany here recently. I love to throw a good shindig.

 

Creating invitations, planning a menu, and having everyone over is just about my favorite thing ever. I don’t need a particularly great reason to do it, I will celebrate just about any event to the fullest. That being said, instead of going out of my way to create a blog, I really should just be blogging about the gatherings I am already hosting. Makes sense doesn’t it?

It just so happens that I was smart enough to think of this in time to get pictures of the most recent soiree. A dear friend in my office is getting married this weekend and is unfortunately moving out of town shortly there after. With nearly all of us getting married within a year span of each other there have been lots of fun showers, but as Pippi is moving away, hers was extra special. Also, her party had a theme, and I just cannot help myself from going a little “overboard” when I have a theme to play with.

Pippi is getting married at the beach and has a general nautical theme going, so we ran with it, and I mean ran, we are talking marathon level theme exploitation.

Every gathering of note starts with an invitation:

Pippi's Nautical Shower Invitation

Pippi’s Nautical Shower Invitation

The RSVP included two choices A Frayed Knot or Knot Going To Miss it…I told you, I am theme obsessed.

Our work friend showers are truly delightful, not only do we get to hangout with a glass of champagne outside of the office, but we have the party throwing process down to a science. We all pitch in for a small group gift, bring a bottle of bubbly and an appetizer to share. I nearly always offer to host at my house for a multitude of reasons, but mostly it offers me a chance to make a gazillion different hard-to-transport and last minute heat requiring goodies. This gathering took hard to transport to a whole new level so I am especially glad I was able to host.

I nearly always start menu planning on Pinterest. Luckily, nautical themed parties are quite popular (mostly for boy baby showers) and I was able to find a plethora of ideas. For my portion of the menu I made, deviled egg boats, pimento cheese boats, chicken salad crabs and jello boats. I also wrapped up utensils in napkins with lifesavers. All in all, everything was easy and quick, with just a dash of creative knife work.

 

Theme Food!

Theme Food!

Lifesaving Utensils

Lifesaving Utensils

For the deviled eggs I just used what I had on hand as I was afraid I had already overextended myself. I simply mixed the yolk with a bit of mustard, a dash of hot sauce and and pepper. A bit of warning, I have found just about every store brand mustard (Kroger and Publix) is extremely salty, and therefore no additional salt is needed. Once the deviled eggs were prepared I cut and inserted sails made out of small sweet peppers. So simple, but so delicious and festive.

deviled egg

Deviled Egg Boats

 

Keeping with the boat theme, I spotted hummus and pepper boats on pinterest and knew I had to take a stab at them. I used the same small sweet peppers that I used to make the deviled egg sails and used them as the boats hull. While hummus would have been an equally easy and tasty route, I decided to use pimento cheese. Palmetto Cheese was scooped into the halved and hollowed peppers, and jicima was sliced about an eight of an inch thick to make sails that would stand upright. These little boats set sail on a bed of kale to complete the presentation.

cheese boats

Pimento Cheese Boats

Finally, I knew I needed one slightly more substantial menu item to absorb libations. I decided on chicken salad and croissant sandwiches that with the simple addition of toothpicks and olives became rather precious crabs.

crab

Chicken Salad Crabs

My beverage contribution for the gathering was not so much a beverage, but jello oceans that packed a little punch. These little shots were super easy to make ahead, and I just had the clementine wedge and sail right before serving.

jello

Jello Oceans

This was just part of the fabulous spread we all pulled together. There were also, crab puffs, garlic knots, chips and dip, cheese and  Whitney made amazing blue velvet anchor cupcakes.

cupcakes

Anchors Away Cupcakes

It was a wonderful and filling evening. Pippi was celebrated to the fullest extent…oh did I mention we had hats?

#pippiparty

#pippiparty

It will be with heavy hearts that we bid her farewell as she voyages up north to Charlotte, but in the meantime we will focus on what is sure to be a truly beautiful ceremony and jubilant reception this weekend. Congratulations Pippi and Todd!!!

 

Well, there we have it, my first attempt at a new and improved blogging theme. No promises shall be made of more frequent posting, as I think I have failed on that commitment several times over. Next up will hopefully be a recap of our draft night party. I have lots of great ideas, and if I can get my act together I will post my 2014 Draft Bingo cards so someone else doesn’t have to torture themselves randomizing their own cards.

Blueberry Biscuits with Balsamic Glaze

“And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads to way,

I doubted I should ever come back.”

– Robert Frost

While you could call my first attempt at “Blueberries Meet Their Match” a success, minus the slight over-bake, I think I my second attempt really nailed it. I love balsamic vinegar, I pretty much put it on everything, which led me to think, why not put it on a biscuit!

I followed a “fast-food” biscuit recipe knowing that this would probably result in the the low and flat crunch on the outside, fluffy on the inside biscuit that my faux-berry biscuit making heart was after, and indeed it was!

All of the good things biscuit

All of the Good Things Biscuit

Other than not using bananas, I mixed up my original blueberry biscuit by and added balsamic and reserved blueberry juice from the thawing berries to the glaze. Ultimately, I thought this led to a purer blueberry flavor, and a significantly less sweet breakfast item, with a nice twang from the balsamic. By adding blueberry and sugar to the glaze it kept the balsamic from being too acidic, and kept it in the realm of delightfully delicious.

IMG_0040

Faux-Berry Biscuit with Balsamic Glaze

Faux-Berry Biscuit with Balsamic Glaze

2 3/4 cups self-rising flower

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup butter cut into 1/2 inch pieces

AND

1/4 cup butter cut into 1/4 inch pieces

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

5 oz blueberries

1/8 cup sugar

Glaze:

1 cup balsamic vinaigrette

Juice from defrosted blueberries

1 cup confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Spray baking sheet with nonstick spray.

Combine flour, baking powder, and cinnamon in a large, wide bowl with fork.

Add first 1/4 cup of butter with 2 1/2 cups of flour by snapping the butter through flour with hands. Once combined, with clumps no larger than a pea, add additional 1/4 cup of butter in similar manner. Be sure to shake bowl to bring larger clumps to the top to fully incorporate.

Toss blueberries in sugar and 1/4 cup flower to add sweetness and to keep blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the biscuit.

With the back of your hand make a shallow divot in the flower. Add 1 1/2 cup buttermilk and blueberries to divot. Mix in long and thorough strokes to incorporate fully in as few strokes as possible. Over handling batter with result in firmer biscuits.

Insert biscuits into oven for 6 minutes, after allotted time, rotate 180 degrees and cook for an additional 6 minutes.

While biscuits are in oven combine balsamic and blueberries juice in pot and cook on simmer for 20 minutes to reduce. Once reduced, let balsamic reduction cool and combine with powder sugar to form glaze. Continue to add powder sugar if the glaze is not thick enough for your liking.

Once biscuits are cool drizzle glaze overtop.

Enjoy!

Learn more about cooking with blueberries at littlebluedynamos.com

“Blueberries Meet Their Match” & Faux-Berry Biscuits

“Time is on my side, yes it is” – Rolling Stones

Irony. Irony, people. As it turns out, moderation is not my jam (get it, like blueberry jam!?). Instead of easing myself back into the world of blogging I decided to cannonball right on in. Last night after getting home from work, going to the grocery store, printing the last few wedding invite envelopes, making a lovely poached salmon dinner, and watching the Hunger Games: Catching Fire, I decided to make not one, but two attempts attempts at Faux-Berry Biscuits. It was a late, late night.

I will have to do a post about all of our wedding stationary at a later date. I have been so happy with every bit of it, and I feel the need to show-off, granted most of my readers actually received their own copies in the mail, it would be nice to document them in perpetuity on the inter-webs. Also, while we are on full-on tangent mode… Hunger Games was great! It was really interesting to see how my visualization of the arena matched with the set, and how much of the book I actually remembered. Not going to lie, I read all three books in a weekend, so retention/analysis were not at the forefront. I am already looking forward to the third movie. I know it was not everyone’s favorite book, but I was actually a pretty big fan, so I am intrigued as to how it will be received.

Moving on, after all, there are much belabored blueberry muffins to talk about!

banner_v1

This contest stood out right away, because I knew I wanted to try my hand at a Bojangles inspired Faux-Berry Biscut. For those uninformed, Bo-Berry biscuits are a staple of fast food breakfast here in SC. Personally, and I know I am going to ruffle a few feathers here, they aren’t my favorite. Too many times I have had hard, blue speckled hockey pucks drowning in icing, and that my friends, is not my idea of a great way to start the morning. Granted, my breakfast choices in general tend to cause consternation among those who have had the pleasure of brunching with me. Things you should know about the Cooktestant, I hate syrup, it is my least favorite food (can you call it a food?) known to man, therefore I hate pancakes, waffles, and french toast. So reflecting upon the Bo-Berry Biscuit, I am already predisposed to not be a fan due to the high sugar level content and overall stickiness of this breakfast item, which is directly attributed to my feelings on syrup.

After that diatribe, you might be wondering why I am even bothering with my own version, and that my lovely reader, is a great question! I think there is so much potential. A light, fluffy blueberry biscuit with a light drizzle of glaze…now I can get behind that, especially if you throw some balsamic into the mix.

I made two versions of the Faux-Berry biscuit, of which, only one of which is worth sharing. I was originally inspired by two different blueberry compliments, banana and balsamic. I attempted a banana and blueberry biscuit drizzled in glaze and a blueberry biscuit drizzled in a balsamic glaze. Blueberry banana felt like a really safe and tasty choice, but after an obscenely sticky batter and a timer malfunction (6 hours is not even close to 6 minutes) I don’t ever want to talk about them again. Which stinks, because having a blog basically necessitates rehashing all of my cooking exploits, including the failures.

I eat a banana every morning, however, I like them basically green so once they get freckles I am over it. Luckily, I  have discovered that I can let them get to full on brown, which is exactly what you want when baking, and then throw them in the freezer for later baking endeavors.

Brown Bananas

Brown Bananas

I followed a basic sweet potato biscuit recipe and substituted bananas for the potatoes assuming a similar wet ingredient tradeoff would go unnoticed. I also added half a bag of defrosted frozen blueberries tossed in sugar and flower (so they wouldn’t all sink to the bottom of the biscuit). Overall, the batter was workable, but super sticky! Like, had to wash my hands 11 times and might never get my oven clean again sticky. Then, after overcoming stick-a-plooza, I threw the biscuits into the oven to cook for 6 minutes before rotating and cooking for another 6 hours 6 minutes. Yeah, I failed, I failed big. Luckily, I grabbed about 12 minutes in and right before major burning occurred, and was able to salvage them.

Slightly Overcooked Blueberry and Banana Biscuits

Slightly Overcooked Blueberry and Banana Biscuits

Once they cooled, I whipped up a super simple powdered sugar and buttermilk  (any milk would do) glaze to drizzle over top.

All in all, I think they made delightful banana bread tasting biscuits. They weren’t bad, in the slightest, but just not a flavor profile that really gets me going.

IMG_0047

Glazed Biscuits

Blueberry Banana Biscuits with Glaze

makes 18

2 1/4 cups self-rising flour

1/8 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/3 cup unsalted butter

2 brown bananas

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/8 cup sugar

5 oz defrosted blueberries

Glaze:

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

2 tbs buttermilk

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Spray baking pan with nonstick spray.

Fork sift 2 cups of flour, baking powder, and cinnamon together in a wide bowl. Leave extra flower to coat blueberries and spread on cutting surface.

Sprinkle butter cut into 1/4 inch slivers on top of flour. I find using my hands to snap the butter into the flour to be the most effective method to incorporate. It should feel like you are literally snapping your fingers with the flour and butter.

With your hand make a shallow well in the middle of the flour. Place bananas, blueberries and half of buttermilk into the well make slow, broad strokes to stir in ingredients. If the batter is too dry add more additional buttermilk.

Once everything is just incorporated, place batter on to smooth floured surface. Fold batter in half, then fold again. After batter is folded pat out into 1/2 inch thick round. Make sure not to over-handle the dough to avoid toughness. Use a 2 to 3 inch diameter biscuit cutter to cut straight down into batter, cutting as close to the subsequent biscuit as possible.

Additional batter can be recombined to continue cutting biscuits, please note, continued handling will result in increasingly tough biscuits.

Place biscuits in oven for 6 minutes, rotate 180 degrees and cook for an additional 6 minutes.

While biscuits are baking, combine sugar and milk in a small bowl with spoon.

After biscuits are out of the over drizzle biscuits with glaze.

Enjoy! The balsamic glazed biscuits will follow in their own post shortly…

Learn more about cooking with blueberries at littlebluedynamos.com

Apparently I have a blog…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.
-Arthur Ashe 

Did you just get an email informing you Cooktestant was back from the dead with a brand new post on her woefully neglected blog? Well, it is true, but don’t get too excited. Deciding to start back up a cooking blog less than two months before my impending nuptials is probably the most ridiculous idea I have had in quite some time, right up there with thinking I would make a good red head… I was going to provide a picture, but lucky for you this was in the pre-Facebook era, but should I feel particularly self-loathing this evening I will share.

Blogging has been calling, well whispering is probably more accurate, to me over the past two and a half years, but embarking on the commitment to document, edit, and post everyday is daunting to say the least. Not to mention, since I last posted I have:

A) Changed Jobs – I left the crazy, hectic world of hospitality to for the different, but still crazy world of nonprofits. I love the work we do in the community, but truth be told, I love the girls I work with even more.  As you can see below there are a lot of us. Some have come and some have gone which just grows our circle more and more.

B) Bought a house! – I know I should have a picture that I didn’t steal from Google Maps, but I just got a new phone and I don’t currently have access to my old photos. We made a lot of cosmetic changes, and still have several to go. Whoever thought a tile mosaic mountain range counter top and back splash was a good idea should be forced to clean my counter every night as punishment.

Home Sweet Home

C) Got engaged!!! – I told you a lot of things happened!  As mentioned above, we are getting married in January and it is wedding crunch time. I am mildly drowning in craft projects and the stress of getting everything all together, but luckily I have amazing friends a family who help carry the load. I can’t wait to share pictures when it is over, as know it will be a beautiful event thanks to my mom and Becky (otherwise known as my design team).

Bling!

As for what you can expect from Cooktestant going forward, nothing. No, not really. My goal is to enter 4 contests a month, share what I have been making in my everyday life, my quest to make the perfect biscuit, and general life updates. I am going to give it a shot, and I would love to have you follow along as I reclaim my blog.

Contest To Be Entered This Month:

Blueberries Meet Their Match entry due 11/30

Details: Entries must include fresh or frozen blueberries and coconut, balsamic, bananas, or rosemary.

Plan of Attack: My initial thought is to make a Faux Berry Biscuit, or a play on Bojangles famous Bo-Berry Biscuit. I am thinking of changing up the normal glaze and using balsamic, or using a sweet potato biscuit recipe, but replacing the sweet potato with banana.

Your Best Brussels Sprouts Recipe presented by Whole Foods entry due 12/1

Details: Win over brussels sprout hates and turn them into true believers.

Plan of Attack: I am a little unsure on what to do, mostly because I have never met a brussels sprout I didn’t love. I was introduced to my beloved brussels at a young age, and used them as a conveyor for “sauce” a delightful, don’t want to know how the sausage is made kind of mock hollandaise creation. Using my mom’s genius technique, I am thinking simply roasted sprout with a robust sauce, or I could put cheese on them, everyone loves cheese.

Cookoff Before Kickoff Recipe Contest entry due 12/8

Details: Create a tailgate dish inspired by your favorite team’s rivalry.

Plan of Attack: Orange. Okay, that isn’t a plan of attack, it is just a color. I could attempt a purple dish, but that just sounds bizarre, so I will stick with orange. I think it is safe to say there will be chicken involved as well as our biggest rival are the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. No concrete ideas here, so stay tuned! Hopefully I will be inspired after this weekend 😉 Speaking of inspiration, my favorite Gamecock just recommended going with more of a state theme, ala, pecans, grits, or sweet tea.

Hidden Valley Dip Envy Mix. Share. Vote. Win. Dip Contest entry due 12/21

Details: Create a dip using Hidden Valley Ranch Dip and Tabasco Sauce

Plan of Attack: With such a strong flavor profile set in place by the ranch and Tabasco this could prove to be a bit challenging. Off the top of my head I am leaning towards using the chipotle Tabasco and incorporating avocado so it is a hopefully good weird ranch/guacamole love child. Or a corn dip, because I feel like a love for ranch and a love for corn go hand-in-hand…just me? K.

 

Alrighty, I think that is all for now folks. Till we meet again, which is hopefully sooner rather than later!

 

 

Where’s The Beef – Seared Steak with Fig Caramelized Onions

Only dofstoyefsky could dream up a pair like us

-HaHa Tonka
So apparently I have started collecting all of Dogfish Head’s various special brews. Incase I have not yet mentioned it, Columbia fails! Its so sad how excited I get to go to a city that has a Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and/or sells Dogfish Head. Greenville, which is very much smaller than my fair city, not only has my beloved Dogfish Head, but a Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Sometimes life is not fair, unless you live in Columbia, and then its pretty much all the time. Of course I am kidding, absence only makes the heart grow fonder, so when I do get to relish in my oft missed delights I have a tendency to go a little crazy.
While in Greenville for Easter I managed to snag almond meal/four, unadulterated shredded coconut, and two of Dogfish head’s brews. I had to fight the urge to pick up everything they had in stock, instead I grabbed Aprihop, a lovely hoppy apricot brew, and Theobroma, a special brew based on the very first applications of cacao.

Dogfish Head's Theobroma

To be specific, Dogfish describes Theobroma as a “beer is based on chemical analysis of pottery fragments found in Honduras which revealed the earliest known alcoholic chocolate drink used by early civilizations to toast special occasions. The discovery of this beverage pushed back the earliest use of cocoa for human consumption more than 500 years to 1200 BC. As per the analysis, Dogfish Heads Theobroma (translated into ‘food of the gods’) is brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and cocoa nibs (from our friends at Askinosie Chocolate), honey, chilies, and annatto (fragrant tree seeds). It’s light in color – not what you expect with your typical chocolate beer. Not that you’d be surpised that we’d do something unexpected with this beer!”

Personally, the chocolate flavor was not everything I had ever hoped for and I was very surprised by the lightness of this draft. With that being said, I found Theobroma to be far more drinkable than I ever thought it would be. I loved the subtle hint of spice that mingled with the ancient honey rich base flavor. As always, I highly recommend picking up this offering, as I do with nearly everything the geniuses at Dogfish come up with. Even if you don’t think this beer is up your alley how can you pass up the drink of the gods ?

On to dinner…

Tonight’s dinner was based around the qualifications for the 2011 National Beef Cook-Off’s Dinner Crunch category. To qualify, all you needed is “focus on easy-to-prepare beef recipes for busy weeknight meals using ingredients commonly on hand at home”.

What do I always have at home? Onions, Jam, Red Wine, Cherry Tomatoes, Spinach and Cous Cous. What can you make with all of those random ingredients…I wasn’t sure either.

Until I decided to cook the onions in the jam, and then it was on. Initially I added about 2 tablespoons to the pan, but as I began to incorporate the mixture I noticed that that amount might not be enough to fully saturate the onions with flavor. Ultimately, 1/4 cup became the perfect amount to glaze and sweeten the onions without overwhelming the dish.

Diced Onions with Figgy Jam

I am a little addicted to apricots, there, I’ve said it.

My original plan called for apricot jam, but there was a lonely jar of barely sweetened fig jam just waiting to find the perfect moment for it’s day in the sun. The fig flavor is not overwhelming, is sweet, but not saccharin-ie, and goes great with savory dishes. My plan for the leftover jam is most likely to make a fig, prosciutto and goat cheese pizza. Yum!

While the onions simmered and caramelized in the jam I began to prepare the “special ingredient”. You can’t enter a beef contest without making the steak the star. In order to really show case the meat preparation was simple, just a little salt and pepper on each side.

Mmmmm, Beef!

While I focused on the star of the meal this is what was happening to the onions….

Fig Caramelized Onions

Perfection!

Once the onions were perfectly browned with figgy goodness I added one of my favorite old vine Zinfandels, Gnarly Head Zin, to deglaze the pan. Once the wine is in I added gobs of cherry tomatoes to stew and become wrinkly in the onion base. I have a deep love for slightly stewed tomatoes whose skin resembles a raisin and which provides a delightful pop of acidic flavor to any dish.

Tomatoes Stewing in Red Wine

Once the tomatoes were slightly loosened from their skin and the wine began to thicken I made room for the steak in the pan to sear in the simmering sauce.

Seared Steak Caramelized Onions and Tomatoes

As I chose a thinner cut of meat I only cooked it for about 1 1/2 minute on each side side my steak slices would be rare. Once the steak was done cooking I removed the meat from the pan and placed on the cutting board and covered with a pot lid to let it rest. While the steak rested I added an additional dash of red wine to help wilt a large heap of spinach to add some green to the meal.

Wilting Spinach

Once the spinach was wilted the sauce was removed from the heat while the steak was cut in thin strips. I topped a bed of rosemary couscous with the onion sauce and placed the steak strips over top. Once everything was plated I added a handful of goat cheese crumbles to finish it off.

All Done

When everything came together I was smitten. I am a HUGE sweet and savory fan and the combination of the sweet jam and onions with the tart tomatoes and cheese really fit the bill. All in all, the steak was treated like royalty resting upon a lovely bed of dramatic and deeply flavorful vegetables.

Who knew my pantry held such a bounty? How about you? What creative meals have you come up with the bits and pieces you can find in your kitchen?

Seared Steak with Fig Caramelized Onions

1 chopped large yellow onion

1/4 fig jam

1 cup grape tomatoes

1 cup bold red wine

Steak

2 cups baby spinach

Goat Cheese

Combine the onion and jam in a pan on med-high and cook until caramelized.

Add red wine and tomatoes and stew on medium heat until the tomatoes begin to wrinkle and the sauce begins to thicken.

Salt and pepper the steak. Make a space in the center of the pan and place the steak in the center. Sear on high heat for 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Remove the steak from the pan and cover to rest while spinach in incorporated.

Add a dash more of wine and spinach to the pan. Wilt the spinach till it is fully incorporated.

Slice the steak in to strips.

Place the sauce on top of your starch of choice. Place steak strips on top and sprinkle cheese to finish.

Enjoy!