Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Dinner

Right after the wedding my parents left for Italy. Johnny and I came back to North Carolina with my brother and his girlfriend, Claire. We had a really low-key Christmas with just my God daughter and her family, us, and my brother. I loved the small Christmas. It was really fun company and just enough food to feed us, without going overboard with a gazillion sides and stress.

My brother cooked Christmas dinner, so no recipes, just sharing the day in photos!

First, he rinsed off the duck that had been brining for 48 hours.

Then, he scored the skin so the fat could render as it cooked.

Our first course was ...cheese. Just cheese. Lyn brought cheese, Michael brought cheese, and I had cheese. It was pounds and pounds of all kinds. Salami wrapped provolone, goat cheese, baked brie, and sharp cheddars.

Michael brought this wine all the way from California to share with us. He has been storing it for 4 years in a cellar, so we were really excited about it.

He was really proud of this "crust." Apparently it's sediment, and meant he stored it correctly on its side? He told me to take a picture, so I obliged...

All of the meal in progress-- busy kitchen!

The duck resting.

Awesome, crispy skin.

Really cute presentation. Legs, thighs, breasts, then wings.

My god daughter, Marissa, led us in prayer.

Then the family was ready to chow down!

The roasted duck with red wine cherry gravy.

Roasted teeny tiny potatoes with onions and garlic.

White wine braised kale with bacon.

The wine continued to flow...

...which led to funny faces...

...and new brother-in-law love!

After dinner, we went down the road to show the girls a really over-the-top decorated house. It's been on The Today Show and HGTV.

The Newlyweds!

Merry Christmas! :)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brining a Christmas Duck

It's no secret that I'm a fan of duck over turkey. Since roasting duck for Project Food Blog (boo hiss), I've made it again for Johnny and myself, and last year for Thanksgiving.

My brother is home for Christmas this year, and my God daughter and her family are coming to visit. I asked my brother if he wanted to do duck and he said yes, and that we should brine it.

I've never brined a bird, but he said "Mrs. Food Blogger" could handle it, and I accepted the challenge.

I googled a bit and went off his recommendation of "salt, sugar, and orange" to come up with the below on my own, based on what we had.

1.5 cups table salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp mustard seed
1 Tbsp fennel seed
1 tsp celery seed
1 Tbsp black pepper
3 bay leaves
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup brewed tea, cooled
1/4 cup orange juice
2 navel oranges, cut into chunks (include peel)
1 head of garlic, cloves crushed and peeled
1-2 cups water, as needed

I put everything but the oranges and garlic in a 2 gallon zip bag. I squished the bag for a few minutes to help dissolve the salt and sugar. Then I added the oranges and garlic. I let everything sit for about 30 minutes to let the flavors start to blend.

Then I added the duck and squeezed the air out of the bag. I added about 1 cup of water for the solution to cover the entire duck. Once the bag was sealed, there was no air in it and the brine surrounded the entire bird. I put the bag in a giant bowl in the fridge to avoid any tipping or unplanned leaks.

I'm going to let it brine until Sunday morning when Chef Michael comes to prepare it. I'll let you all know how my first brining experience turns out! I'm excited!

Have you ever brined anything?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I do!

Johnny and I got married Monday!

Here is a teaser photograph we got yesterday that I thought I'd share with you guys.

A few FAQ:

We got married at Bear Mountain State Park in upstate New York. My family is from the area, so I still have a lot of family, friends, and connections there. Not to mention it's absolutely beautiful and perfect for a winter wedding!

I am 27, Johnny is 34. We were together 5 years in September.

I got my dress at David's Bridal and absolutely loved it! It did not have a train, so I chose a cathedral length veil for the ceremony to trail behind me.

Instead of carrying a bouquet, I carried my Grammy Calvino's prayer book (pictured above). She carried it down the aisle for her December wedding.

Because we got married at a state park, the venue area is open to the public on the weekends until 5pm. We could either have a much later and shorter wedding, or choose a weekday. That is the reason we had a Monday wedding.

We are not going on a honeymoon right away. Johnny has a big work project for his company he's been working on. We're hoping to go sometime in February or March after the project is wrapped up.

I'll post more photos as we get them and also some food photos!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Tonight I cooked dinner, intending on blogging about it.

I miss cooking.

I miss taking pictures of my food.

I miss blogging.

I miss sharing with you guys.

Anyways, here's what my house ended up looking like:

Yes, that's thick, dense smoke.

I had to scream for Johnny's help.

The fire alarm went off. The dog howled.

We opened all the windows. Turned on all the fans.

It's two and a half hours later and my eyes still burn.

Dinner was steak, caramelized onions, and roasted butternut squash.

My pictures of it ended up looking like grainy cat barf, so I deleted them.

Maybe one day I'll get my blogging juice back.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

This sort of falls under the "semi-home made" category, but it was my first ever Pineapple Upside Down Cake and we all enjoyed it, so it's worth sharing.

We had some family friends and my parents over for dinner. I've known Jack and Sylvia pretty much my whole life. They live out in western NC now, but occasionally come to the Outer Banks to visit.

My dad tipped me off ahead of time to make this cake for them, and to be honest I was a little nervous. Last time I made an upside down cake it stuck to the pan and I had to patch it back together! I used a highly reviewed Dunkin Hines recipe, with a few alterations to cut back on fat, calories, and sugar.

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
20 oz can of pineapple rings
cherries or walnuts, optional

Dunkin Hines Pineapple Supreme cake mix
1 pkg vanilla instant pudding (I used fat free, sugar free)
4 eggs
1 cup water (I used the 100% pineapple juice from the can)
1/2 cup oil

Preheat oven to 350°. Generously grease a 12" baking pan.

Melt butter for the topping in a medium bowl in the microwave. Stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Spread into the bottom of the baking pan and arrange the pineapple rings, cherries, and/or walnuts, if using.

Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water (or juice), and oil in a mixing bowl. Mix at medium speed until combined, about 2 minutes. Pour batter over the pineapple rings. (Note: All of the batter may not fit in the pan. Make a smaller cake alongside, or reserve for later use.)

Bake for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool a few minutes, then invert onto serving plate while still warm.

I was so excited it popped out of the pan cleanly! The cake itself was really moist and rich. I've heard people boasting about including instant pudding in cake mix before, but never tried it myself.

And my will power is happy to report we sent the leftover half of the cake home with Jack and Sylvia!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Baked Boneless Buffalo Wings

I've really been trying to behave myself the past few weeks since the wedding is next month. I bought my dress back in January, a few pounds lighter than what I am now.

Of course, as soon as I put my mind to eating healthier, I instantly crave all things obnoxious. Soda, cheesy meals, things covered in gravy, and deep fried anything.

So when I saw Ally post these Boneless Buffalo Wings I knew I hit the jackpot and bookmarked them right away!

Baked chicken is on the healthy end of the spectrum, but boneless wings with the finger licking sauciness would seem like I was indulging in a sinful meal!

I made a much larger quantity, and I had to change a few things due to what I had on hand.

6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
~3 cups flour (Don't ask me how a box of Bisquick disappeared since we moved in- I know I unpacked it and put it in the cabinet under the microwave.)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
Buffalo sauce (I used Texas Pete extra mild)

Preheat the oven to 450°.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and milk. In a second large bowl, stir together the flour, cheese, garlic powder, and paprika.

Cut the chicken into little 1" chunks. Soak in the egg bowl, then move the pieces into the flour bowl and toss to coat. Spread out onto two greased baking pans and bake for 20 minutes, flipping half way through.

Once cooked, put the hot chicken chunks into a large bowl. Pour the buffalo sauce over top. Fold with a large spoon to coat everything evenly.

Plate with celery sticks and bleu cheese or ranch dressing. Serves 6.

I didn't know it beforehand, but both Lyn (our company) and Johnny are not big fans of buffalo wings or bleu cheese. They both ate and ate and ate multiple servings of this, praising it highly.

This recipe is definitely a keeper. Quick, easy, and painless. Plus a lot of veggie-munching goodness!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Quinoa

This was inspired wholeheartedly by Laura's broccoli cheese quinoa, posted earlier this summer. I bookmarked it until I had the time and kitchen to make it myself.

That time has finally come.

I kept mine really simple and strictly broccoli and cheese. Hers is a lot more inspired. This is one of those dishes you can add to based on your personal preferences.

Two of my favorite little girls, my God daughter and her sister are visiting. I gave them a vote of taco night or broccoli and cheese with a special new food said KEEN-WAH! Surprisingly, it was a unanimous vote against taco night! I didn't mind, though because I really wanted to try this!

2 cups quinoa
4 cups vegetable broth
1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
3 heads broccoli, washed and cut into florets

In a large pot I cooked the quinoa and vegetable broth. Alongside, in a separate pot I steamed the broccoli.

When the quinoa had just a minute or two left, I stirred in 1 cup of the cheese, until fully melted and replaced the lid.

Drain the broccoli of any residual moisture from steaming and dump in the big pot. Fold everything together until incorporated.

Serve sprinkled with the additional cheese. Serves ~6 adults a dinner sized portion.

Yum, this was so good. All of us "big people" had two servings. I also served roasted buttercup squash alongside for more bulk to the meal.

Thankfully there's lots of leftovers for lunch today! I can't wait to dig into them!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Christina's Birthday Dinner Party!

First, I would like to apologize for my entire lack of food photos in this post. I'm an out of shape, rusty blogger. Once things started happening I completely forgot about my camera on the side table until long after my guests left.

October 23rd was my 27th birthday. My bosses Jeffrey and Linda had been trying to get up with me for weeks about going out to dinner, them cooking dinner, coming here for dinner, etc. Eventually when we had a plan in place, they had both had dental work so weren't much in the mood for chewing.

(recycled photo)

My butternut squash soup would do the trick perfectly for my birthday dinner party!

I used our rental home's nice dinnerware to make the evening feel more special. I find if you set the table ahead of time and make sure everything is at the ready it makes your guests feel special and the evening runs smoother. The dinner centerpiece was a huge, fresh salad I cut everything by hand for. Lots of the toppings were in small bowls so guests could customize the toppings based on their preferences.

As Johnny pointed out, the orange soup would look great served in these beautiful bowls! With the dinnerware being so busy, I chose to omit dinner decorations, and let the bold plates and bowls speak for themselves!

Appetizers were fresh shrimp cocktail my dad brought, olives, pickles, and bread with a vegetable tapenade. (<--Spell check wants me to change that to tapeworm -- ewwww!)

Dinner started with a huge salad. I used the seeds from the butternut squash as a crunchy topping to connect the courses.

For the seeds I simply tossed them with:

vegetable oil
garlic powder

And baked at 350° for about 30 minutes, stirring them a few times to make sure they were evenly toasty and nobody stuck together.

Dessert was a delicious home made key lime pie my boss Jeffrey made from scratch! That's real whipped cream with key lime zest in it! So good!

Disclosure: There are paid links included in this post. Please note, it really was my birthday, and the photos and words are all genuine Christina, unaffected by this opportunity. Just simply a chance to earn a little cash for the upcoming wedding!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Plotting my Return

Over the past few months I've neglected this little blog of mine.

However, my stats have been unaffected.

I guess random Googlers fuel my traffic, not "regulars." So now I don't feel as guilty about letting you guys down since you are all buttheads who don't recognize my awesomeness.

Just to keep you up to date:

We moved out of the tiny apartment into a 4 bedroom house on the beach.

House hunting was not progressing and we thought we'd take this opportunity to rent a bigger house, a few steps from the ocean. The off-season prices are amazing and when will we ever have a chance to live in a sandy oasis again?

This means we have a full kitchen again. I haven't unpacked everything yet, though. I need to stock up on some pantry staples and possibly get some stuff out of storage. I'm hoping this will mark my return to blogging because I miss it, even if you don't miss me (which, you should!).

Edited to add: If you want to come visit, send me an e-mail. Seriously! There are 3 extra rooms!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lemon Bars

My dad is a sucker for all things lemon. The other night he pulled out a Company's Coming "Most Loved Treats" cookbook, turned to lemon bars and let me know I should make them, if I had the time.

The crust called for 2 sticks of butter, so I got to googling, trying to find some waist-friendly alternatives.

I used David Lebovitz's crust, because it reduced the sugar and butter:

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a large, microwave safe bowl, melt the butter. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and vanilla, stirring until well-mixed. Spread out into a 7" x 11" pan. Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes, until browned. Remove and let cool while you make the filling.

For the filling, I adjusted the cookbook's recipe to include less sugar:

4 eggs
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp peel (I didn't have any, so I omitted)
1 1/4 cup sugar (it called for 2!!)
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
confectioner's sugar, optional

Whisk the eggs until frothy. Add the sugar, flour, baking powder, and peel if using, mixing until incorporated. Stir in the lemon juice. Pour into the cooled crust. Bake for ~20 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle the top with confectioner's sugar if desired.

Cut into bars and enjoy!!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Weekend Pumpkin Pancakes

I grabbed this at a gift shop while Johnny and I were in Sleepy Hollow, NY last weekend. It was all decorated for fall and Halloween, so really I couldn't resist. Plus, you could smell the spices through the bag, tempting you to take it home and make them. I love how it says "best weekend pancakes" because weekend pancakes always seem to taste better than weekday pancakes. (I think so at least.)

It was nothing crazy. I probably could have found a recipe to make at home. But hey, it's convenient and cute. I made it for dinner because I love breakfast for dinner!

The mix was really thick. Usually when I make Bisquick pancakes they're runny and pour easily. This was super thick like a cake batter.

I ran over to my parents' house and stole borrowed their griddle. We don't have much in the pots and pans department so it just seemed easiest. I cooked a package of little sausages and about a dozen of these fluffy, cakey, pumpkin spice pancakes. The scent was ahhhmazing. I told Johnny that our upstairs neighbor probably wanted to kill us from the smells wafting up into his apartment.

I ate 3 pancakes and 4 5 of the little sausages. I've been trying to behave myself for the wedding. I'm tracking my exercise on Daily Mile and have swapped out a meal a day for SlimFast shakes. The two month mark is coming up quick!!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Road Trip Deli

The last wedding appointment Johnny and I had last weekend was with our Reverend. I found him online with great reviews, and after calling around to talk to a few officiants, I chose him. I love the guy! He's really personable and always cracks me up with a great sense of humor. This was Johnny's first time meeting him and he agreed. While we were walking away he squeezed my hand and told me I made the right choice.

We got in the car to drive away and I realized we should grab some food. I spotted Goldberg's Famous Bagels. There was no question. A Jewish deli making bagels? Can you get better than that!? I chose the everything bagel (BOTH sides were toasty and covered with toppings) with home made cream cheese and chives with Nova. He sliced the Nova fresh off the side of a salmon before putting it on my bagel.

For good measure, I texted my dad a picture with the caption "You jealous!?" It was delicious and makes me wish we had more Jewish people in the south. They just know their stuff.