Monday, June 30, 2014

Smoked Mac and Cheese & Big Bear Recap

Oh lawwwwwd. Comfort food. Do I really need to say anything else? There is something so divine about macaroni and cheese. And I do not give a shit if it’s out a box with the neon cheese mix, or made from scratch. I do not discriminate against mac and cheese. Cheesy noodles? I’m there. Mike and I share this sentiment. That is why there is pretty much always mac and cheese in our pantry. However, my mother-in-law Barb recently gave me her homemade recipe and I absolutely love it. It’s a really solid recipe that is perfect for a crowd. Or...perfect for my husband and I to eat straight out of the pan and not share with anyone else without feeling an ounce of shame...But I digress.

Since I have been having so much fun with my smoker this summer, I decided to kick this mac and cheese up a notch and toss it on the smoker. And let me tell you. It’s fantastic. Smokey, cheesy, ooey-gooey goodness. But definitely perfect for the oven as well. And it’s really versatile. You could add bacon, or jalapenos, or whatever really. The options are endless. I'd usually post a picture to prove the deliciousness...but we ate outside and it was dark so the pictures look terrible. You'll just have to take my word for it!

Smoked Mac and Cheese (care of Barb!)
Makes 6-8 servings (depending on how big of a fatty you are)

4 cups large elbow macaroni
4 cups shredded melting cheese*
1/4 cup flour
2 sticks of butter sliced into small cubes
2 cups of milk
1 sleeve of saltine crackers
Salt & Pepper

Cook macaroni until ALMOST al dente. Because it is going in the smoker (or oven) you want it to have some bite to it still. Drain the macaroni in a colander. Grease a 9x13 baking dish with butter or Pam. Put a layer of macaroni across the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle flour over it and season with salt and pepper. Put a handful of the butter cubes on top, and then a layer of the cheese. Repeat this until you have 3 layers, or are out of macaroni. Pour the milk evenly over the layered macaroni and sprinkle whatever cheese you have left on top. Crush the saltine crackers in a baggie and then spread them evenly over the top. They will crisp up in the smoker/oven.

Now here is where is gets epic. Start your smoker, and then preheat it to 350 degrees. Smoke the mac and cheese for an hour, or until the top is browned nicely and the milk has been absorbed. It will take the same amount of time at the same temperature in an oven. Let it cool for 10-15 minutes if you can wait that long and dig in!

* Just a note on the cheese for this recipe. Barb likes to use Tillamook cheddar, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. In fact, I love that cheese, it’s delicious.. However, any yummy melty cheese would work here. You could do smoked gouda, white cheddar, or even a combination. Have fun with it!! We had a white cheddar/gruyere blend in the fridge from TJ's, so that’s what we went with! Holy crap it was FANTASTIC. We even had friends over for dinner, one of whom does not like mac and cheese...and he had 2 servings. It's THAT good.

Talking about something being good, great and fantastic....Big Bear Lake. Mike set up a little getaway as a graduation present so we went this past weekend. I had never been up there, and I absolutely loved it. It's the perfect day (plus some) trip. It's only about an hour and a half away, so it's an easy drive, and there is a TON to do up there, regardless of the season. We arrived around 10:30am on Saturday and totally scored by being able to check into our cabin at Big Bear Frontier a full four hours early! The cabin was adorable too. Literally a 1 minute walk from the shore of the lake, 5 minutes from the marina, and 10 to the village, where a bunch of restaurants and shops are. The location cannot be beat.

So we checked in, and then decided to walk to the village for lunch. We found a new brewery that just opened 2ish months ago called the Big Bear Lake Brewing Company. Cute little place, beer brewed on site, and tasty food. We had spicy edamame with shishito peppers and we split their BBQ burger. And of course we had a couple of their beers. Yum yum yum.
Pomegranate Wheat and Hefewiezen
Afterwards we walked back to the cabin, changed into swim gear, and headed to the marina. We rented a tandem kayak for an hour....and used it for about 45 minutes. It was a load of fun, paddling around like we had a clue what we were doing. At the end of our time, we went back to the cabin, cleaned up and cycled through the HBO movies. We decided to get take out dinner from this Nepalese-Indian food place called the Himalayan. We had chicken and paneer tikka masala with naan and samosas. All super flavorful and delicious. We were smart enough to pack a couple of beers, so we sat out on the deck connected to the cabin and ate. It was lovely.
My handsome hubby and I
As the sun started going down, we walked to the shore and sat and watched the sunset. It was gorgeous over the water.

The next morning we got up, checked out, and strolled through village for about an hour before having lunch at Jasper's Smokehouse. Mike and I shared pulled pork and pulled brisket sandwiches. Good stuff. We bought one little knick knack to bring home....a ceramic bear that holds a wine bottle. So us.
The newest member of the family
It was the perfect quick getaway. We both had a blast, and will definitely be going back in the winter!


Friday, June 27, 2014

Cherry Cobbler is definitely summertime. I spent 15 minutes this morning trying to wrangle my birds nest of hair only to find it basically pointless. If it weren't for the coffee I am currently swigging, there would no redeeming qualities to this morning. wonderfully sweet and thoughtful hubby Mike is taking me to BIG BEAR (Woo!) this weekend as a graduation present. He and I have been so busy these last few months, we are really looking forward to, well, not knowing anyone around and just being with each other. Should be a lot of fun...there may even be jet skis involved. I'll definitely give you all the run down next week. Going to be a fantastic weekend, just me and my man.

Speaking of fantastic things....have you seen the cherries in season right now? Holy crap, they are gorgeous. Big, plump, tart morsels of summer time. Cherries being in season coincided with my 52 Weeks of Cooking challenge this week, Stone Fruit (Week 25). I could not wait to share this with you guys. Since you can get your hands on cherries now, there is no reason you shouldn't do just that and enjoy them.

For this challenge, Mike and I spent time pitting cherries....not the most fun activity in the world, but when I was bitching about it he looked over and me and said "It's family bonding time!" I couldn't help but laugh and enjoy it.  Now on to the recipe. Such a simple preparation, and the results were killer. Really good stuff. I hope you try it and enjoy it!
Freshly pitted

With the crumble, ready for the oven

Ready to dig in!!!
Cherry Cobbler
Serves 6

4 cups of cherries, pitted
1 heaping cup of sugar
1 heaping cup of all purpose flour
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. After you have spent precious minutes of your life pitting the cherries and covering yourself in cherry juice, place them in a small baking dish. I used my 5x8 Le Creuset, which is nice and shallow, and perfect for something like this. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Mix in the beaten egg with a fork. You want to achieve a crumbly texture here. It's not going to look like a normal dough. Sprinkle the crumble on top of the cherries, covering as much as possible. Then drizzle the melted butter on top. Bake the cobbler for 35-45 minutes. I went 42 minutes and the crumble was light golden brown. There is something that happens when you bake it. The cherries release their juices but retain their sweetness and it is just magical. Enjoy it plain, or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Have a great weekend everyone!!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

52 Weeks of Cooking - Week 1

For the first cooking challenge this year, the theme was eggs. Now I don’t know about you, but I pretty much always have eggs in the house. My hubby doesn't love them as a breakfast food, but they have been incorporated into every other meal of the day. For this challenge, I wanted to use the humble little egg in a way that I previously had not.

Enter Katie, my best friend, the maid of honor at our wedding and an all around awesome, smart and funny chick. As soon as I told her about my new adventure in cooking, she asked if I had ever made Idaho Sunrises before. I think I replied with an ultra graceful, “what the fuck is that??” and once she explained it I was sold on the idea. It’s a really cheap, quick and yummy use of an egg. I would definitely encourage you to try these out. They are a really great way to use up those last few potatoes in the bag too!

Idaho Sunrise
Makes 1

1 medium russet potato
1 egg
Salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the potato until done, or nuke about four minutes in a microwave if you’re in a rush. Cut the upper ⅓ of the potato off, and then gently scoop out most of the potato, leaving a potato-shell of sorts. Season the inside of the potato with salt and pepper. Crack the egg into a clean bowl, then pour it into the potato. Sprinkle a little more salt and pepper on top of the egg. Bake for 15-25 minutes, depending on how you like your egg. 15 will produce a creamy, melting yolk, and 25 will produce a firm egg white and yolk. Enjoy.
Sorry for the crappy picture. But you get the idea.
This was a super simple way to cook an egg, and Mike even liked it, which is rare for him where eggs are concerned. Good stuff. Mike is whisking me away this weekend for a little getaway as a graduation present….woo! Have a lovely weekend!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Caprese Salad

I have said it before, and I will say it again….I am in LOVE with fresh, simple flavors. Food doesn’t have to be complicated and include 40 ingredients to be scrumptious. One of my favorite recipes of all time demonstrates just how wonderful simply prepared food can be. It’s also an Italian classic, which brings me back to my Italiano heritage. I’m talking about Caprese salad. Mike and I are always so happy when I make this. It's practically lick-the-bowl good.

This dish can be done any number of ways.However, this is my go-to preparation, that is fast, easy, crowd-pleasing, and 100% delicious. It is also perfect for summertime, as it is cool, fresh and bursting with flavor. It’s an excellent addition to any meal, or can serve as a meal itself with a couple slices of crusty french bread. MMMM!

My usual suspects, minus the crusty baguette. Oh and you know that leftover basil is going to turn into pesto baby!

One of my favorite sights. Come on, doesn't that look so beautiful???!!!

Ahhh yeah....Just waiting to be demolished.

Caprese Salad

Makes 8 small servings or 4 big ones

1 container pearl tomatoes (or heirloom, or whatever tomatoes make you happy...go to TJ’s!)
1 container small mozzarella balls
½ cup fresh basil leaves
Balsamic Vinegar (the good stuff, don’t be cheap here!!)
Salt & Pepper to taste

Prep the tomatoes. If you are using the pearl tomatoes cut them in half. For larger tomatoes, cut them down to bite sized pieces. Cut the mozzarella balls in half as well. Chiffonade the basil. Put all three ingredients in a large serving bowl. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the salad. How much you use is a personal decision. I use it here, because the acidity really brings out all the other flavors. Typically I use around ⅓ of a cup. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Eat by itself or with the aforementioned crusty french bread. Weep with joy at the simplicity while stuffing your face.


Friday, June 20, 2014

52 Weeks of Cooking

Good morning guys and gals! I’m here to tell you a story about an adventure I have been on this year. Starting back on January first, I signed up for a 52 week cooking challenge. Each week there is a new theme/ingredient/ethnicity that you have to cook for. So far, we have worked on the following challenges:

Week 1: Eggs
Week 2: Polish
Week 3: One Pot
Week 4: Ingredient You Hated As a Kid
Week 5: Vanilla
Week 6: Jamaican
Week 7: Poaching
Week 8: TV Show Inspired
Week 9: Garlic
Week 10: Australian
Week 11: Molecular
Week 12: Street Food
Week 13: Potatoes
Week 14: Belgian
Week 15: Knife Work
Week 16: 80’s Food
Week 17: Soy
Week 18: Peruvian
Week 19: Caramelization
Week 20: Diner/Drive In Food
Week 21: Beer
Week 22: Turkish
Week 23: Confit
Week 24: Historic Foods/Famous Dishes from History

As you can see….although I have not been blogging, I have definitely still been cooking up a storm. The point of this challenge has been to try new foods, cooking techniques mostly have fun.

Every week or so, I will be sharing my posts from the challenge. Hopefully some of you will be inspired to have some fun in the kitchen and try something new!
By the way, the challenge is located on if you want to take a look and see what the other people are cooking up. There are always great ideas to be found!


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Mojito Madness

Last year Mike and I got married on September 1 (woo matrimony!). We spent our honeymoon aboard the Carnival Dream and had 7 blissful days of sun, sand and fruity cocktails. It was heaven. Every time I drink a mojito it reminds me of Mike having his first one on our honeymoon and how it basically became the drink of the trip. This also brings back our hazy, rum-splashed jaunt through the Bacardi distillery in Puerto Rico. be young and in love!

Mike having his first Mojito

I was so tan....Sigh.

Here is my adapted recipe for this refreshing, minty cup of love:

Honeymoon Mojitos

Makes 2 drinks

6 sprigs of fresh mint
2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces simple syrup (recipe below)
4 ounces white rum (Bacardi preferably)
3 ounces cold club soda

Put the mint leaves, lime juice and simple syrup at the bottom of a shaker and either use a spoon or a muddler to squeeze the mint. You want to release all of the oils in the mint.

Add the rum, and the ice, and shake it up to mix all that goodness together for about 20 seconds.

Fill two 10 ounce glasses with ice, and split the mixture into them, straining out the ice used to shake them up. Top with the club soda. Garnish with a lime wedge or a sprig of mint, or both if you’re feeling it. Enjoy!

Recipe notes: You can use Bacardi Limon or Raspberry for a more fruity flavor if you want. But the original is damn tasty all on its own.

Simple Syrup

Water and white sugar in equal quantities

Mix the water and sugar together in a saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Allow to cool before using.


Monday, June 16, 2014

What a Long....Strange Trip It's Been

808 days.
115 weeks.
2 years, 2 months and 17 days.

This is how long this blog has been silent.

It’s been FAR too long if you ask me. But here I am. Emerging from 2 of the most hectic, busy, crazy, exciting, love and loss filled years of my life. Oh, and I FINALLY finished my degree...Can I get a hallelujah??!?!?!

Life, well, happens. However, I also got married during this period to the love of my life Mike, so it definitely hasn’t all been bad. In fact, that part has been pretty damned wonderful.

Here we are just after saying our vows. Happiest day of my life, hands down.

So what can I say? I’ve been patiently (Ok, really impatiently) waiting for my degree to be done so that I could start working on side projects. This blog has been at the top of the list. And here I am. Two days post-commencement, writing to all of you lovely people. Hoping you’ll come back as readers, and help this blog grow. This is something I have wanted to focus on for a long time, and now is the time.

Here’s a little sneak peak of what I have in store for you!
  •, old, refreshed, revitalized, and most importantly DELICIOUS.
  • Cocktails...’nuff said.
  • Money saving tips...because who doesn’t like saving money???
  • Time saving tips...for the above reason =)
  • Humble pie.. You know everyone messes up in the kitchen from time to time. I’m not perfect, and fucking up is how we learn. So I’ll share my blunders, and my successes. Keeping it real people.

So stay tuned. There’s a lot of good stuff coming your way.
I am so happy to be back!


P.S. Brownie points (and maybe a pan of actual brownies…!) to the first person to email me with the title and artist of the song lyrics I used in the title!! Ready, set, GO!