Monday, September 29, 2014

The MIXED Dixie Crystals Pre-Conference Baking Contest 2014! {#MIXEDCon}

A little over three weeks ago, the day that the MIXED conference
announced the third annual, Dixie Crystals Sugar pre-conference
baking contest, I whipped up a batch of my husband's favorite cookies
and vowed to enter. But then I remembered... I've attended MIXED two
years in a row and have therefore tasted the awesome talent of the baking
geniuses who tend to enter these types of recipe contests... So I naturally
talked myself out of entering... Like 500 times. But tonight, with literally
less than sixteen minutes left on the entrance deadline, I've decided that...
Even if my Pecan-Cranberry Florentine cookies don't win this
year's MIXED sugar showdown, you still deserve to be introduced to
the cookies my husband always tells me taste like an autumn sunset!
Next to the incredible taste, these cookies are
super easy to make and don't even require a mixer!
Preheat oven to 350°. Then, in a heavy-bottom sauce pan, melt
three tablespoons unsalted butter and 2/3 cups Dixie Crystals
granulated sugar. Add 1/2 cup whipping cream and stir...
Bring mixture to a boil very slowly and when it just begins to bubble,
remove pan from heat and stir in: One and a third cups chopped pecans,
one tablespoon dried cranberries, the zest of one and a half oranges, 2
teaspoons crystallized ginger, chopped and one-half cup sifted AP flour!
Smells like an autumn sunset, I promise!
Stir mixture with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper until fully combined...
Then drop by tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet...
Or onto a Silpat mat...
Bake cookies 10-12 minutes or until edges turn golden brown...
While cookies are still warm, use a spoon or off-set
spatula to shape them back into rounds if necessary...
And, allow cookies to cool on baking sheet or move them to a
cutting board covered with a sheet of wax or parchment paper
Melt ten ounces of dark chocolate in a heat-proof bowl set
over a pan of boiling water. When chocolate is completely
melted, add one teaspoon vegetable oil and stir...
Then, coat the smooth side of your cookies with it! I've
also added caramel to some of the cookies and popped them
into the freezer to set the caramel before coating with chocolate...
Which always makes my sweetie extra happy! Either
way, with or without caramel, sprinkle cookies with
more chopped pecans before chocolate sets and enjoy!

I'm excited to be attending MIXED again this year and if you'd like to join the fun tickets are still available here

If you need a little encouragement, (as if the outrageous give-aways, swag, people you meet and blogger education weren't enough...) you can read about my experiences at MIXED here! 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

(When in Rome) Idaho® Potato Pizza with Goat Cheese and Fresh Thyme

The things I remember about the experiences our family shared during the twenty years the Captain served in the Army could fill several books... Traveling throughout Europe in our Ford Country Squire, my parents seemed fearless to me - Never missing an opportunity to take the roads less traveled in hopes of discovering something completely undisclosed within the pages of the travel guide books that littered the front seat. Every wrong turn was a new adventure and more often than not, resulted in our stumbling across something or some place that left us laughing, amazed... Or both!
Discovering new cultures and cuisines to become immersed in during those month-long summer vacations and every-weekend jaunts was the highlight of my youth... They are the experiences that shaped who I am today and they are the gifts I will always cherish and be most grateful for.
One of those memorable trips is the summer our family went to Italy. I remember we drove all night, arriving at Piazza S. Pietro, (Saint Peter's Square, in the Vatican City) just after 3AM. My father, ever the rebel and always first in line, created a parking spot right there in the middle of the square, telling us to get comfy because that's where we'd be spending the night! I also remember being awaken by a knock on the window, delivered by a somewhat humorless man holding a garden hose who was trying to shoo us away like the pigeons in order to spray down the Piazza before the other tourists arrived! I was eight, going on nine and remember the moment as if it occurred this morning...

Other memories of that trip live on in my kitchen to this day. Which just happens to bring me to the point of this post. You see, it was in Rome where we as a family discovered Pizza di Patate or potato pizza! Traditionally made with white potatoes, onion, mozzarella and rosemary, it's pizza we ordered by the slice in pieces cut according to how wide we held out our hands! These were pizzas that emerged from the wood-fired ovens smoking... With crust that was slightly burned, crisp and salty on the outside but soft, tender and light as air on the inside. The potatoes were as delicious as the crust, crispy around the edges with velvety smooth centers that melted as easily on my tongue as the cheese did. It was pure pizza heaven!

So, when I was invited to contribute my favorite holiday potato recipes for the Idaho® Potato Commission a few weeks ago, I knew the first recipe I wanted to share was my own version of Rome's potato pizza - What I affectionately call my, When in Rome Potato Pizza with Goat Cheese and Fresh Thyme! 
Let's start! Or as they say in Italy... Cominciamo!
To make this recipe super easy... Something you might throw together to
nibble on this weekend while watching the game or serve as an unexpected
but impressive appetizer before your upcoming holiday meals, I recommend
using refrigerated pizza crust. Dressed up with a little of the best extra
virgin olive oil, sea salt, and fresh thyme leaves, it's a fine substitute for
homemade. Besides, these gorgeous slices of Idaho® Potatoes are the
real stars of this pizza! So... Preheat your oven according to the package
directions and unroll a can of pizza crust onto a rectangular pizza stone
or baking sheet you have first lightly dusted with corn meal. Using your
fingers, spread a thin coating of extra virgin olive oil over the crust. Then,
sprinkle with coarse sea salt and fresh thyme leaves removed from the stem!
Bake crust for 5 minutes or just until it lifts away from the baking
stone without tearing. Set aside, leaving oven on. Using a sharp knife
or mandolin, slice a combination of Idaho® red and russet potatoes
lengthwise to a thickness where you can almost see through them. By
the way, to keep your potatoes looking bright-white, always place cut
potatoes into a bowl of cold water with 2-3 teaspoons of lemon juice
concentrate or fresh lemon juice added. Also, to prevent browning of
shredded potatoes for dishes such as hash browns or potato cakes, I've
found alternating between onion and potatoes on your grater works too!
After all potatoes have been sliced, arrange the slices onto a
rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and cover with
enough cold water to come 1/4" up onto sides of the sheet pan...
Bake potato slices 10 minutes. While potatoes bake, prepare other
toppings. I love to add everything from sautéed artichokes to crispy
pancetta to my potato pizzas; however, today, I'm using red onion
rings, minced shallot and garlic, goat cheese and more fresh thyme!
Spread minced garlic and shallot over pizza crust. Then, carefully remove
potato slices from oven and pat sides of each slice dry using paper towels...
Arrange potatoes over pizza crust in a shingled pattern and dot with
as much creamy goat cheese as you'd like! Finish with red onion slices
and more fresh thyme leaves. As you can see, I didn't work quite fast
enough, so a few of my potato slices discolored before I could get them
arranged onto my pizza crust. Again, this can be prevented by returning
even cooked slices to the lemon-water bath until you're ready for them!
Bake pizza 12-14 minutes...
Until edges are dark and goat cheese begins to brown...
Serve sliced up into pieces as big as you want...
And, if you'd like...
Drizzle with a bit more olive oil... Just like they do in Rome!
For a printable copy of my When in Rome Potato Pizza recipe as well
as many other fantastic potato recipes, please do visit the Idaho®
Potato Commission's website. You'll find this one and two of my
other recipes, (posts to be published very soon) listed right here!

I was compensated for the recipes I contributed to the Idaho® Potato Commission's website. However, this did not influence the fact that I believe the finest potatoes in the world can only be Idaho® Potatoes!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Best use of summer's last tomatoes... Roasted Tomato Jam! {#FBFAsh #VisitAsheville}

Despite my protests, summer is quickly drawing to a close...
Which sadly also means the end of what I think are the best tomatoes our
little garden has ever produced! And, although the tomatoes coming off
the vines now are certainly less attractive than the ones we harvested a few
weeks ago, I refuse to let any go to waste! After all, heirloom tomatoes are
bred for taste, not beauty... A description I also believe applies a bit to me!
But seriously... All of these late-summer tomatoes I picked this morning,
with their green shoulders from too much/uneven sunlight and cracking,
which signals inconsistent watering, are just as delicious and nutritious as
their prettier cousins picked for the salad team first! In fact, the journal
PLoS ONE reports that organic tomatoes pack more nutrients, including
fifty-five percent more vitamin C and 139 percent more phenolic content;
compounds that have been shown to help fight diseases such as cancer. The
theory is that the plants produce higher level of phytochemicals when they
are stressed, which occurs when they aren't protected by pesticides, making
their fruit more nutrient-dense! So go ahead... Run out to your garden and
pick all those ugly tomatoes. And, if you don't have a garden, then get to your
local farmers' market for some before they're all gone! All it takes is a little
trimming and you'll see... Inside, these tomatoes are as perfect as they come!
Speaking of perfect... I have so much to share with you about my time in
lovely Asheville at Food Blog Forum last week! But as excited as I am
to spill the beans and share a dessert recipe I've developed using two of the
very sweetest Asheville FoodTopia goodies, today we're talking about...
My roasted tomato jam! Which also features an ingredient from the
Food Blog Forum swag bag I got... It's this bottle of Batistini IGP
Tuscany Organic extra virgin olive oil. As you know, I cook with a lot of
olive oil and this particular olive oil, which happens to be distributed
in Clemmons, just a few miles from my home, is truly delicious! So,
seeing this sexy bottle pop out of the bag that Jaden, Julie, Lindsay
put together was a thrill! Honestly, it's the best. Read about it, here!
In my opinion, tomato jam is the single
best use of summer's last tomatoes...
It's so easy to put together and tastes like sweet summer-time! I
spread it over my turkey panini and BLT sandwiches... So good!
Chunk up tomatoes, throw them onto a baking sheet and drizzle with
the world's best extra virgin olive oil. Then, kiss them with a little
dark brown sugar and sprinkling of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper!
Slip all this goodness into a preheated,
400-degree oven for 20 minutes...
And, prepare to be amazed by the aroma and flavor!
Now, since I'm also using some of this lip-kicking Smoking J's Fiery
Foods barbecue sauce from in the second amazing swag bag gifted us
by our exceptional FOODTOPIA Asheville hosts, Dodi, Landis and
Cat from on my ribs and chicken wings...
Only tomato jam bruschetta as a side will do!
Let's build the perfect bruschetta, shall we?
Grab a spoon!
To add tomato jam to thin slices of grilled French baguette...
And top with finely grated Parmesan cheese and baby basil leaves!
The sweet, acidic flavor of my tomato jam is the perfect compliment and
equalizer to the stealth kick of Smoking J's Ninja Porter sauce - Made with
Asheville Brewing Company's 2014 World Beer Cup GOLD winning Ninja
Porter brew which delivers a chocolate finish with coffee/caramel notes!
Put it all together and it is all just sooo good!

I leave you now sending my sincere thanks to the Food Blog Forum Asheville team for the incredible experience of exploring parts of beautiful Asheville I've never seen before with delightful new friends from I am just beginning to scratch the surface of the amazing swag from FOODTOPIA Asheville, so please stay tuned!

I said it at the conference and I'll say it again;'s FOODTOPIA Asheville, BEST SWAG BAG... Ever!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Winston-Salem Open 2014 - Sponsored by Hanesbrands and Champion USA!

One of the countless benefits of working for Hanesbrands is the
ability to fill a seat each year at the Winston-Salem Tennis Open!
Where our Champion brand has another opportunity to shine!
I love tennis!
So I pulled out my now vintage '93 US Open t-shirt and
headed out to the semi-finals last night with my sweetie!
It was a lovely evening for tennis!
And, to spend a little extra time with the amazing people I work with!
See what I mean?... Lovely!
Last night's semi-final match was played by Jerzy Janowicz of Poland...
And, Sam Querrey of the United States. He's
from California, but lives in Las Vegas... Just to be exact!
It was great tennis!
Not quite the thrill of watching my biggest crush,
Bjorn Borg defeat McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1980...
But great tennis nonetheless!
Although loyal to Sam, the American... It was
clear that Jerzy had the attention of the crowd!
In the end, despite 18 aces delivered by Querrey...
The better competitor won...
And, I ended up with one of the autographed
tennis balls Jerzy lobbed at us from the court!
Of course, watching Jerzy play last night,
we couldn't not return today for the finals!
Despite the fact that it was blazing hot at 12:30PM when the match began!
Jerzy's challenger today was Czech veteran, Lukas Rosol!
Knowing Jerzy won a prior meeting with Rosol last year
in Marseille, I was hopeful he'd come away with the win...
However, despite giving 150% on one of the hottest days this month...
It was not to be!
Regardless of who wins or loses...
I just love to watch great tennis!
And, this year's Winston-Salem Open didn't disappoint in the least!
Hanesbrands and the Champion USA brand rocked this event!
And, I cannot wait for next year!
The other thing I couldn't wait for was to get home to do this...
Because I wasn't kidding... It was really, really hot out there today!