cooking, Entertaining, food, NaBloPoMo, recipe

The Only Appetizer Recipe You’ll Need

Mr. KK and I have always been big fans of visiting Portland, Maine. Aside from the fact that it reminds us a bit of Boston with it’s cobblestone ankle-breaking sidewalks and amazing restaurants (can you say lobstah rolls?), but the beer scene is top notch.

Trips to Portland became a little harder when the Little Mister came along, and as much as we were raising a bar baby, it was getting hard to ignore the stink eye we’d get from the hipsters.

One summer we rented a beach house for the three of us in South Portland, a 10-minute drive over the bridge. We were just close enough to enjoy an afternoon in our favorite city, with the luxury of being walking distance to a great little beach. Our house was conveniently located next to a Scratch Baking Company, a bakery that had somewhat of a cult following. Every morning at 6am people would start lining up waiting for the bakery to open, just to get their hands on their famous bagels. With the line of people came chit chat, so every morning we were up at the crack of dawn listening to everyone in line.

Now, having a husband with a sweet tooth and a toddler who loved all things cake and cookie, being next to the bakery was a very convenient spot for us. I could literally roll out of bed, walk out the front door, and be in line in my pajamas. Not being much a bagel person myself, they had a coffee cake that was to die for.

My favorite item from this bakery, however, was not a baked good at all. Tucked into the cooler with the cream cheese were containers of homemade pimento cheese spread.

Now, if you’re from the south, you are well aware of how life-changing pimento cheese is. If you don’t know what pimento cheese spread is, well, I’m sorry. You’ve barely enjoyed life up until this point.

First off, it’s made with cheese. If you’re a cheese whore like I am, that should be enough of a selling point. Second, it’s cheese mixed with cream cheese. (I mean, COME ON.) But perhaps the best selling point, is that you can eat it on almost anything. Crackers? Sure. Pita chips? My favorite. As a grilled cheese. Woah. Spread on a chicken cutlet on a roll? Shut the front door.

The day I discovered the pimento cheese spread at Scratch Baking Company, my entire vacation changed. I bought a container every single day, and ate the entire thing throughout the day. I had dreams about this pimento cheese. We went back to South Portland a second summer and the first thing I did was go to this bakery and secure pimento cheese for the week.

But you don’t have to live in the south or visit South Portland in order to enjoy pimento cheese. In fact, I have made pimento cheese spread many times (is there anything better to enjoy at a Kentucky Derby Party?). However, I have discovered the best of the best pimento cheese recipe; the créme de le cream cheese, if you will.

And who other to give us this amazing recipe than my girl crush: Ina Garten.

In her latest cookbook Modern Comfort Food, Ina shares her take on this amazing appetizer. In fact, once you make this and serve it, you’ll never need another appetizer recipe again.

Ina’s Spicy Pimento Cheese Spread

Recipe and photos courtesy of Ina Garten.

Click here for the recipe and a video.

Ingredients

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup mayonnaise 
1 1/2 tsp granulated onion (not onion powder)
2 large garlic gloves
1 teaspoon celery seed 
Kosher salt
3/4 cup pickled jalapenos, drained and chopped 
1/2 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts (3 to 4 scallions)
1/2 cup chopped roasted red peppers, drained (4 ounces)
4 cups shredded sharp while cheddar (10 ounces)
1 tablespoon Sriracha

Crackers and/or crudités for serving

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, onion, garlic, celery seed and 1/2 tsp salt with a wooden spoon. Add the pickled jalapenos, scallions and red peppers and grated Cheddar. Add the Sriracha and combine. Taste for seasonings and serve with crackers, corn chips or crudités. (Or with my favorite: pita chips).

I highly recommend you make a double batch: one batch for your guests, and the other to hide in the back of your fridge so you can shame it any time no one is looking.

You’re welcome.

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The day Ina Garten and I become BFFs

This post is written in the future tense because it hasn’t happened yet…but it will.

My girl crush just published a new cookbook (I already have mine!) and is currently on tour, promoting the book, sharing stories, answering questions and just being all-around awesome. My favorite cook in my favorite city.

And guess who’s going to see her? THIS GIRL.

Ina Garten book tour Boston
I’m even sitting in row KK – talk about fate!

Why I love Ina Garten

Back in my younger, pre-child days, when I would spend hours on the weekends cooking special dinners, or prepping meals for the week, the Food Network was always on. And my favorite television chef to watch was always Ina.

There’s just something open and honest and real about Ina. From the way she talks about her marriage to Jeffrey (who works at Yale down the street from me…Hey, Jeffrey, can I hitch a ride to the Hamptons with you??) to her friendships with other chefs and celebrities (I mean, Taylor Swift and Ina together? COME ON, PEOPLE, it doesn’t get much better than that.) And her recipes are easy to follow, and her food is just plain good.

When Little Mister came along, he developed a crush on Ina almost immediately. He would sit and stare at her on TV mesmerized. There was this one issue of Food Network Magazine that he would always pull off the shelf with Ina on the cover. When I would ask who that was on the cover, his little voice would answer, “Ina!”

Ina Garten's biggest fan

There’s a good chance she will see me, our eyes will lock, and she will invite me to the barn to cook alongside of her. I’m hoping she does a book signing after the event, because I will be there clutching my cookbook like a crazed groupie.

But in a cool way.

My top 5 favorite Ina recipes that you need to make right now:

Pan fried onion dip

Penne vodka

White beans and escarole

Skillet lemon chicken

Blondies

Happy cooking!

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Ode to the artichoke.

stuffed artichoke recipeLast week I was out to dinner, and one of the appetizer specials was a stuffed artichoke.

I was immediately transported to my childhood. If you grew up in an Italian family, chances are, stuffed artichokes graced your Sunday dinner table at one time or another. There’s just something about the stuffing – and the effort to eat them, because Lord knows they are a ton of work for very little (delicious) reward – and gliding the leaves over your teeth to remove the ‘meat’.

In my family, my Grandma Rose was the stuffed artichoke expert. She was also the best roasted potato maker; so much so that we would joke that her oven had magical powers because every time she made them, they came out crispy and brown on the outside, and soft and chewy on the inside (but I digress).

Anyway, I’ll never forget one Sunday my grandmother had just taken the Corning Ware dish (the white one, with the blue flowers on the front) of stuffed artichokes out of the oven and placed them on the top of the stove to cool. We had both turned our backs for two seconds when all of a sudden we heard a giant CRACK! only to find that the Corning Ware dish (which is designed to withstand high oven heat) cracked apart, scattering shards of ceramic glass on the stove top, on the floor, and – unfortunately – in the artichokes.

Back then, I had no idea how much effort she had put into making those artichokes (not to mention the expense), and why she was so upset when she watched my dad toss them away. Now that I’m older, and I’ve made an artichoke or two in my life, I can appreciate how labor intensive artichokes are. In fact, when I make them, I only make them for me and Mr. KK. My grandmother used to make them for the entire family.

The stuffed artichoke I had at the restaurant the other night was delicious. With a few pieces of bread to dunk in the stuffing and juice, it was practically a meal in itself (when I go back in the near future to have it again, it will be). I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. So much so, that I made stuffed artichokes for dinner tonight. And I have to say, they were mighty delicious.

I’m going to try and share the recipe here, because they were that good. But, like any home cook, I made up the recipe as I went along. So, I’ll do my best…

kk’s Stuffed artichoke recipe

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, halved
4-5 slices of bread, processed into crumbs (I used wheat because it’s what I had)
1 clove of garlic, grated
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
salt
olive oil (maybe 1/4-1/2 cup)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

I parboiled the artichoke hearts so they didn’t take as long to cook. Before cooking, I cut the top of the artichoke off (maybe about the top 15%) until I could see the ‘choke’ inside. I then trimmed the coarse, pointy leaves on the outside. I put the artichokes with the lemon in a pot of water and brought it to a boil, cooking the artichokes about 20-25 mins until you can insert a knife into the base easily, but not until they start to fall apart.

While the artichokes are boiling I made the stuffing. Combine the bread crumbs, cheeses, garlic, salt and olive oil in a bowl. Stuffing should be moistened, but not too wet. Once the artichokes are out of the water, I cut the stems off, peel them, and then dice the soft flesh up and put it into the stuffing (that’s just me, you don’t have to do this).

When the artichokes are cooled, open them up slightly until you can use a spoon or tongs to remove the ‘choke’ (the interior prickly leaves, sometimes the ends are purple). Place the artichokes in a casserole dish (oven safe) and fill the middle cavity with stuffing. Then, open up the outer leaves slightly and put stuffing between as many leaves as you can until you use it all up. Drizzle the artichokes with olive oil. Put a bit of water in the casserole dish (I also put white wine in because, why not?) and then cook them in the oven for about 20 minutes until the stuffing is crispy.

Get ready to get messy, there is no sophisticated way to eat a stuffed artichoke. You will literally need a shower after you’re done.

But, man on man, do they remind me of my childhood, and my Grandma Rose.