Happy Hour Friday : Champagne Punch

This weekend is supposed to be gorgeous and that is great news since Saturday is the Foxfield Races. These horse races have taken place for over thirty years and there is always a huge turnout. From children to adults, it is a  favorite of many in Charlottesville. There is tailgating galore with a wide variety of BBQ, deviled eggs, ham biscuits, salads and fried chicken. And what tailgate would be complete without an ample supply of beer, wine, mimosas and bloody marys?

This recipe for champagne punch looks so refreshing and delicious. The addition of fresh fruit mixed with champagne and simple syrup sounds like the perfect cocktail for spring, summer and warm weather in general. Whip up a big batch of this and have some friends over for brunch, a pre-dinner cocktail, or to watch the royal wedding today!

Source: Recipe and Photo Courtesy of Martha Stewart

You Will Need:
  • 1 thinly sliced peach
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup simple syrup
  • 1 bottle champagne or other sparkling white wine

Here We Go:
  • In a pitcher, combine ice, peach, raspberries, blueberries, lemon juice, and simple syrup
  • Slowly pour in champagne or other sparkling white wine

Serves 6
Happy Feasting!


Grilled Cheese : Gruyere, Monterey Jack and Tomato

April is national grilled cheese month, and as this is the last week of the month, I couldn't let the opportunity to have a grilled cheese post go out the window! When I make a grilled cheese I usually go for good ole' American cheese (I know most of you are cringing right now, including my husband), but what would a grilled cheese, the staple American sandwich, be without ooey, gooey, melted American cheese goodness?

Well, it seems that a grilled cheese can survive without American cheese just fine. I used vine ripened tomatoes and amazingly delicious gruyere and monterey jack. Although, I will continue to eat some of my grilled cheeses with American cheese, this grilled cheese is definitely the blue ribbon winner today!

 You Will Need:
  • 4 slices of bread, 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 slices Gruyere cheese
  • 2 slices Monterey jack cheese
  • 1 vine ripe tomato
  • 2 Tbsp butter

Here We Go:
  • Heat a pan over medium-low  heat
  • Butter one side of each piece of bread
  • Place two slices, butter side down, in the pan, top with the cheeses and tomato and the remaining slices of bread, butter side up
  • Grill until the cheese has melted and the bread is golden brown on both sides; roughly 5-7 minutes 

Serves 2
Happy Feasting!



Cook the Cover: Simple Pomodoro Sauce

Bon appetit's May issue is entitled "The Italy Issue" and I am in love. I have now read the entire magazine front to back and found so many recipes that I want to try. My husband and I are taking a twenty-two day trip to Europe once he graduates from business school, and Italy is the country where we will be spending the most time while we are abroad. Lucky for us, this issue also told me where the best pasta, gelato and pizza are in Rome - I was drooling while I was reading and jotting down the list.

This simple pomodoro sauce is so easy and unbelievably delicious. Bon appetit says it is "The simplest, silkiest sauce you'll ever make" and I would have to agree with them. This sauce would be great over spaghetti, ravioli or even over top chicken parmigiana.

Source : bon appetit May 2011

You Will Need:
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 oz. can peeled tomatoes, puréed in a food processor
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 large fresh basil sprigs
  • 12 oz. bucatini or spaghetti
  • 2 Tbsp. cubed unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino

Here We Go:
  • Heat extra-virgin olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium-low heat
  • Add minced onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 12 minutes
  • Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2-4 minutes
  • Add crushed red pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute more
  • Increase heat to medium, add puréed tomatoes and season lightly with kosher salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes
  • Remove pan from heat, stir in basil sprigs, and set aside
  • Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a 5-qt. pot
  • Season with salt; add spaghetti or bucatini and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender
  • Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water
  • Discard basil and heat skillet over high heat
  • Stir in reserved pasta water to loosen sauce; bring to a boil
  • Add pasta and cook, stirring, until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente, about 2 minutes
  • Remove pan from heat; add butter and cheese; toss until cheese melts
  • Transfer to warm bowls; serve with more cheese, if desired

Serves 4
Happy Feasting!


Kate's Caprese

It was eighty degrees yesterday and absolutely gorgeous! When the weather feels like this I think your whole mentality changes, including your appetite and cravings. You want to eat something light and fresh and indicative of the season. This past weekend I bought two small basil plants that I hope will eventually turn into bountiful bunches of basil (since it is virtually impossible to find right now..if you have found some please tell me where?). I also found gorgeous vine ripe tomatoes at the grocery store and thought that a summer-esque caprese salad would be perfect. This simple dish has only a few ingredients yet the flavors of those ingredients are so fresh and wonderful.

You Will Need:
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 1/2 vine ripe tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 4 leaves fresh basil, minced

Here We Go:
  • Layer tomatoes and mozzarella on small tray or platter
  • Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • Sprinkle fresh basil on top
  • Season with salt and pepper

Serves 2 as a Side
Happy Feasting!


Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Leave it to a significant other (men more than likely) to casually forget to tell you something. Something that might be as important as "Oh yeah, so we have this party to go to tonight and I said that we would bring an appetizer".

Key word = we

Well, most women know that we actually means you. Now, I know that there are some lucky ladies out there who have significant others who are wonderful cooks (you are very lucky)! I, on the other hand, was left to fend for myself. I wanted to make something that was relatively quick and was sure to be a crowd pleaser. I had remembered seeing a Spinach and Artichoke recipe on one of my favorite blogs, In Good Taste , and it seemed like a pretty solid appetizer with rave reviews. This dip definitely did not disappoint. I served it alongside Fritos Scoops and Pita Chips which seemed to be a success since there was nothing left to bring home!

You Will Need:
  • 8 oz reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 8 oz fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup far-free or reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1 15-oz can artichoke hearts, rinsed and roughly quartered
  • 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of excess moisture
  • 1/2 cup parmigiana reggiano cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Here We Go:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  • Combine first six ingredients by hand using a wooden spoon or spatula
  • Add 1/4 cup of parmigiana cheese and spread dip into a baking dish (I used 8x8)
  • Top with the rest of the parmigiana
  • Bake 40-45 minutes or until cheese on top is brown and bubbly
  • Serve with crackers, french bread, Fritos Scoops or Pita Chips

Happy Feasting!


Cadbury Mini - Egg Rice Krispie Treats

Like millions of other people I, too, suffer from the addiction of Cadbury Mini Eggs. It doesn't get much better than that crispy, crunchy outside shell and the initially hard yet creamy milk chocolate center (although now they make a dark chocolate as well!). When Easter is over, it is so sad to think that it will be an entire year until the shelves are stocked with that pretty purple bag once again.

I have seen numerous recipes for Cadbury mini-egg cupcakes and cookies and I know that either of those would for sure be a crowd pleaser. I, however, opted for a Cadbury mini-egg rice krispy treat and let me tell you it is wonderful. So with Easter only one week from today, I think everyone should go ahead and make this treat before there are no more Cadbury eggs until next year!

You Will Need:
  • 1 10oz bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs
  • 3 Tbsp margarine or butter
  • 1 10oz Package of mini marshmallows
  • 4 cups Kellogg's Rice Krispies

Here We Go:
  • Grease an 8x8 square baking pan
  • Melt margarine or butter in large saucepan over low heat
  • Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted and remove from heat
  • Mix in rice krispies and stir until well coated
  • Stir in 1 cup of crushed Cadbury mini eggs
  • Spread mixture using a buttered spatula or waxed paper evenly into the greased baking pan
  • While mixture is still warm top with remaining Cabdury mini eggs
  • Cut into 2 inch squares once cooled

Makes 12 Treats
Happy Feasting!


Happy Hour Friday : White Hall Vineyards Petit Verdot

Last weekend my brother and his girlfriend were visiting us from Atlanta. Although the weather wasn't warm and sunny as we had all hoped, it definitely didn't slow us down. We went to a dinner party Friday night (thanks John and Hobby!) where the wine was freely flowing and the dinner spread was out-of-this-world. There was BBQ from Barbeque Exchange, marinated tomato and mozzarella skewers, mini pizzas, herb chicken mini bruschetta with cheddar and fig jam (unreal!), and one of my all time favorite dressings to accompany the asparagus - green goddess! Oh, and who could forget the little macaroons for dessert -so cute! It was a wonderful night of eating, drinking and catching up with friends.

We woke up Saturday morning and left the house headed to lunch followed by an afternoon of vineyards. The final stop on our wine tour of Charlottesville was White Hall Vineyards. This was my first time at White Hall and it exceeded my expectations by far. The vineyard is small and intimate and the staff is so warm and personable. After a wine tasting, we ended up buying a bottle of this wine (because we loved it so much) and the four of us sat in front of the fire chatting and loving this petit verdot.

White Hall's tasting notes describe this wine as "rich ruby colors and luxurious aromas of cedar, dark chocolate, and tobacco foreshadow a round palate laced with notes of bright cherry and currants, enhanced by smoky vanilla flavors and well-integrated tannins." This red is light and versatile. It is the type of wine that could accompany pasta, steak, chicken or even a salad . This bottle retails for around $20 which is so reasonable for a great red wine! You can purchase it online directly through the vineyard or find it at select Harris Teeters, Krogers or Publix. Don't miss out on this delicious petit verdot. Have a great weekend and enjoy your Happy Hour!


Nutty Greens with Bacon and Blue Cheese

The last several times that I have made green beans they have been just so-so. Lacking flavor, complexity and definitely nothing to write home about. Then I found it! A recipe that finally had something worthy of trying and ultimately, after tasting, worthy of posting for you guys. These nutty green beans have the slightest hint of blue cheese. The saltiness of the bacon mixed with the sweetness of the glazed pecans give that sweet and salty combination that we all yearn for in every dish!

Source: Food Network's Claire Robinson

You Will Need:
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 cups green beans, trimmed
  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese, cut into small chunks
  • 1/4 cup glazed whole pecans, coarsely chopped ( I used Emerald)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Here we go:
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat
  • Add the green beans and cook for about 2 minutes
  • Remove the beans from the water and immediately place in a bowl of ice water to stop beans from cooking
  • Remove the green beans from the ice water and set aside in a medium sized bowl
  • In a large saute pan, over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp
  • Remove the bacon and place on paper towels
  • Add the beans to the bacon drippings and cook over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes
  • Add the blue cheese and toss just until it starts to melt
  • Break the cooked bacon into bite-size pieces and add to pan
  • Finish by stirring in the toasted chopped pecans
  • Season with the freshly ground black pepper and just a tiny pinch of kosher salt
  • Serve immediately

Serves 2
Happy Feasting!


Sweet Italian Sausage, Goat Cheese, Sauteed Onion & Green Pepper Pizza

I love pizza on Sunday nights. There is something to be said about eating a home cooked meal on Sunday after a busy weekend where you spent most of your time eating out. Yesterday started out as yet another chilly day, and by mid afternoon it was gorgeous outside. We made this fabulous pizza last night and sat down with the windows open and a big bottle of red wine - perfect end to a weekend!

You Will Need:
  • 1 ball of pizza dough (I prefer Whole Foods)
  • 1 1/4 cups pizza sauce 
  • 1/2 of a 12oz bag of mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 sweet onion, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 8 oz sweet Italian sausage, crumbled
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil

Here We Go:
  • Preheat oven to 500 degrees F
  • Roll out dough using your hands or a rolling pin if you have one
  • Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in small skillet and cook sausage 7-10 minutes, or until no longer pink and set aside
  • Heat remaining Tbsp of olive oil in skillet and saute onions and green peppers for roughly 10 minutes, or until soft
  • Place dough on pizza stone or baking sheet
  • Top dough with pizza sauce, cheeses, sausage, onion and green pepper
  • Bake for 10-12 minutes on top rack, or until golden brown

Serves 8 Slices
Happy Feasting!


MM Sandwiches - PW Style!

"KATE! I have a recipe that you HAVE to make!"

That was an email from my friend Sarah about these sandwiches that she found on the Pioneer Woman and said that I must try. She was absolutely right! These sandwiches are melt-in-your-mouth delish! They have tremendous flavor and once the pepper jack cheese is bubbling on top of these bad boys your mouth will be watering before you even take your first bite. Given that these MM sandwiches are a favorite of the Marlboro Man (Pioneer Woman's husband); your boyfriends, fiances and husbands are sure to love them too!

You Will Need:
  • 4 Tbsp Butter
  • 2 pounds Cube Steak (round Steak That's Been Extra Tenderized)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper
  • 1 whole Large Yellow Onion, Halved And Sliced Thick
  • 2 whole Green Bell Peppers, Sliced Into Rings
  • 2 whole Red Bell Peppers, Sliced Into Rings
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 16 oz, weight White Mushrooms, Sliced
  • 2 Tbsp (additional) Butter
  • 1-½ cup Sherry (regular Or Cooking Sherry Is Fine)
  • 4 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
  • 4 dashes Tabasco (more To Taste)
  • 8 whole Deli Rolls (the Crustier The Better)
  • 2 Tbsp (additional) Butter
  • 8 slices Cheese (Provolone, Swiss, Pepper Jack)

Here We Go:

  • Cut cube steak into strips against the grain, season with salt and pepper and set aside
  • Heat 4 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet over high heat
  • As soon as it’s melted (but before it burns) brown strips of cube steak in two or three batches, about 1 1/2 minutes per side and remove meat to a clean plate when brown. Set aside.
  • Reduce heat to medium-high and add onions, garlic, green peppers, and red peppers and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until relatively soft (but not flimsy.) Remove to a clean plate. Set aside.
  • Melt 2 additional Tbsp butter to the skillet
  • Add sliced mushrooms and stir
  • Pour in sherry, then add Worcestershire and Tabasco
  • Cook over medium-high heat for five minutes, or until liquid has reduced by about a third
  • Add in meat and vegetables, stirring to combine. Cook for just a few minutes to heat everything up, adding more sherry and Worcestershire (and Tabasco) as needed
  • Stir in 2 Tbsp butter at the end and keep hot
  • Toast halved deli rolls in plenty of butter until golden brown and crisp
  • Spoon meat/veggie mixture on the lower half of the bun, then spoon one or two tablespoons of pan sauce over the meat (it will soak into the bun.)
  • Drizzle a little sauce on the underside of the top bun, too, for extra flavor and moisture
  • Top with cheese and broil for a minute or two, until the cheese is melted
  • Serve immediately

Serves 8
Happy Feasting!


Fish Tacos with Creamy Lime Guacamole and Cabbage Slaw

I cannot believe that it is already April - 2011 is flying by and I hate it! It won't be too long until we are packing up and moving to North Carolina. Although, the move is exciting and there are many new places to see and people to meet, I will miss Charlottesville and everything that goes along with it - being only an hour away from our families, the friends we have made, our fave restaurants, football tailgates, the downtown mall, the incredible music scene...the list goes on and on. Sigh...And so I digress...back to the fish tacos...

I wish that I could take credit for these amazing fish tacos but the only thing that I can take credit for are the pictures to document the meal and scarfing them up. We went over to a friend's house for dinner last week and she made these tasty tacos. These tacos are so light, refreshing and flavorful. The grilled fish, cabbage slaw and simple lime guacamole come together to create quite the perfect bite - the ingredients are so tasty on their own that you don't even really need the tortilla.Thanks Lauren and Will for such a delish meal!

Source: Food and Wine Magazine

You Will Need:
  • 2 Hass avocados—halved, pitted and peeled
  • 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp minced red onion
  • 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 5 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small head of napa cabbage, shredded (4 cups)
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for brushing
  • 2 pounds thick red snapper fillets with skin, cut crosswise into ten 2-inch-wide strips
  • 10 7-inch flour tortillas, warmed
  • 2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • Hot sauce, for serving
  • Lime wedges, for serving

Here We Go:
  • Light a grill
  • In a medium bowl, mash the avocados, sour cream, jalapeño, red onion, cilantro and 3 Tbsp of the lime juice
  • Season the guacamole with salt and pepper and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the guacamole
  • In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with the 2 Tbsp of vegetable oil and the remaining 2 Tbsp of lime juice and season with salt and pepper
  • Brush the fish with oil and season with salt and pepper
  • Grill over moderately high heat until lightly charred and cooked through, about 10 minutes
  • Transfer the fish to a platter and pull off the skin
  • To assemble each taco, spread a dollop of guacamole on a tortilla. Top with a piece of fish, a few tomato slices and a large spoonful of the cabbage slaw
  • Serve with the hot sauce and lime wedge

Serves 10
Happy Feasting!


Sandy's Banana Bread and Happy Birthday Susan!

My mom is a wonderful cook and I think it is because she was taught by her mother who was the best cook I have ever known. There are certain things that my mom makes that just don't taste as good when I try to make them. I follow her recipes down to the last step, yet there is always something that isn't exactly as I remember it. While I was living in New York, my mom used to make her spaghetti sauce, freeze it and bring it to me in freezer bags whenever she and my dad came to visit ( I know...great mom!). I think it usually lasted me a few days...I eat a lot of pasta. Like her spaghetti sauce, her banana bread is one of a kind. I actually think this time, though, that mine might have turned out as tasty as when she makes it!

This banana bread is seriously the best that I have ever had. I don't know if I am biased because it is my mom's recipe, or if because the extra hit of banana cream pudding puts it over the top, but regardless it is to die for.

My friend Susan has been asking me to post a banana bread recipe. Her birthday was last week and she celebrated with brunch yesterday in NYC (as we have done for the past three years!). I couldn't be there this year, so I figured that I could at least give Susan her banana bread. Here you go Suz, happy birthday!

You Will Need:
  • 1/2 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 overly ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 box banana cream pudding mix (Instant or cooked)
  • 1 heaping tsp vanilla extract

Here We Go:
  • Preheat Oven to 300 degrees F
  • Grease and flour 1 large or 2 small loaf pans
  • Cream butter and sugar together
  • Add eggs and vanilla and beat well
  • Blend in sour cream and set aside
  • Mix flour, box of banana cream pudding mix, soda, and mashed bananas together
  • Blend in with other wet ingredients and mix well 
  • Pour dough into greased pan(s)
  • Bake for 65 minutes for large pan or 55 minutes for small pan
  • Be sure and check center before removing from the oven

Note: Can also be used for french toast and sprinkled with fresh bananas and warm maple syrup...and it is unreal!

Makes Roughly 10 Slices
Happy Feasting!


Happy Hour Friday: Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc

This past weekend I was in DC with a bunch my college girlfriends. Since graduation, we all try to get together once a year if possible. Last year it was New York City and this year it was Washington. The weekend was filled with staying out too late, mimosa brunches, shopping in Georgetown and a delicious meal Saturday night at Chef Geoff's downtown. I think we were on our fourth bottle of sauvignon blanc and second round of cosmopolitans (there were a lot of us!) when one of my friends said "Kate, you should totally talk about cocktails on your blog!". I had definitely thought about this before, but it was sort of a fleeting thought and I decided that I was going to focus solely on food. Well, needless to say, I have changed my mind.

Welcome to Happy Hour Friday! From here on out, every other Friday, I hope to discuss great bottles of wine, beers, cocktails and maybe even a handful of delish virgin happy hour treats! As summer is just around the corner, I know that people will be flocking to bars after work or heading home to grill-out with friends, and after a long work week it doesn't get much better than a happy hour!

Now onto this week's wine...

Given that this resurfaced while consuming many bottles of sauvignon blanc, I figured that it was only appropriate that my first happy hour post be just that. When it comes to wine, I am not prejudice - red or white will be just fine. I will say, though, that on a regular basis I definitely drink more white wine than red wine. And of the white wines, sauvignon blanc is generally my go-to.

New Zealand's Oyster Bay is a crisp and refreshing wine. I first purchased a bottle of this affordable wine while living in New York City because at roughly $12 per bottle it was exactly what I could afford.  Now, even though my budget could probably afford a little more why would I stray? Don't try to fix what isn't broken and this wine is definitely not broken. Natalie MacLean, drinks blogger for Epicurious, writes “This is one of the most consistently delicious and refreshing whites on store shelves. The fruit for this New Zealand wine is gently pressed and the juice is cold-settled to retain its freshness. It has a vibrant, zesty flavor with enticing notes of passion fruit and lime, and works both as an aperitif for cocktail parties and paired with a wide range of dishes, from shellfish to vegetarian." I couldn't agree more with her comments. Go and get yourself some Oyster Bay!

Enjoy your Happy Hour!