Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Quarter Life (Crisis) Cuisine Thanksgiving Recipes!

Last year's Thanksgiving dinner, lovingly made by my Stepdad.

Happy Almost-Thanksgiving, everyone!

A lot of blogs have put a hold on their Thanksgiving recipes this week, assuming everyone already has their dinners planned.

A friend's fried turkey, two year's ago.
MAN OH MAN do I want a turkey fryer!

I, however, know that us 20-somethings/Millennials/whathaveyou are a little less organized with these things. For example, I only just decided that I'd be contributing a Potato Gatto to the upcoming Thanksgiving parties I'll be going to over the next few days. Plus, it's way more likely that we're attending a family or friend's celebration rather than planning our own, so I'm sure there is a handful of you who still need some good ideas!

Last year, cooking with my cat
(not cooking the cat, just the brussels sprouts!)
So, if you're like me and are rushing to put together a contribution for your Thanksgiving event of choice, I am here to help! Below are some tried and true recipes I've made over the years that would be a great addition to any Thanksgiving table.

I have divided the recipes into Sweet and Savory. Most are side-dish-esque, so they're perfect to bring to parties.

Famous Taco Dip (my most-pinned recipe)
The Famous Mac and Cheese (my first blog recipe!!)
Baked Beans (a family tradition of mine)


This Year's Friendsgiving Plate

Thanksgiving in Austin -- Updated Potato Gatto

Note to self: See if fiancee can work these pictures a little better... I hate posting such dark photos, but Photoshop makes my computer run like a snail. Ugh. Anyways, figured I should have this up sooner rather than later!

I've never had a Thanksgiving away from home. This year, as you probably know, I'm living in Austin, Texas, about 2000 miles from my family in Massachusetts. Cory and I decided that we should save our money for plane tickets home for Christmas, so this means that tomorrow will be my first Thanksgiving away from my family. It's bizarre. I keep forgetting it's Thanksgiving time at all, considering it's a sunny 60 degrees outside today. Thanksgiving means cold and family and the suggestion of snow.

Over the past few years, the Friendsgiving trend has been becoming more popular. For those of us who are far from home for the holiday it's a nice comfort to be surrounded by friends to share the holiday with. I'll be having a mini-Friendsgiving of my own (appetizers and drinks) this weekend for friends to try the Budweiser 12 Beers I got from Millennial Central (check out my Instagram for a sneak peek!).
This past weekend, my friend Lauren invited me to a Friendsgiving with some of her new Austin friends. Lauren is also from Boston, and moved here for a job a few months before I did. It's nice to have a college friend in the area, and I was grateful for the excuse to cook!

She told me they needed another potato dish, so I knew exactly what I was going to use. Based on a recipe I found while working at FamilyFun Magazine, this is one of my go-to potluck dishes when I am invited to a party. Especially if my rarely-seen Shy Ashley Self makes an appearance (as it did at this event) because then at least I can find comfort in knowing people liked my food, even if I was too shy to chat!

You may remember this Potato Gatto from an older post, about two years ago, also for a Friendsgiving. Although THESE pictures kind of suck, the ones from that post sucked even WORSE so I figured it was worth a re-do. This dish is pretty simple, though it does take a while to cook the potatoes and then bake the whole casserole, but it's a great dish to make ahead of time. It also can be altered to fit your own needs (I made it gluten-free) and you can sub the meats and cheeses for your favorites. I actually will be bringing this to Cory's aunt's Thanksgiving which we will be taking part in, and another Friendsgiving later in the evening.

Potato Gatto
(Adapted from FamilyFun Magazine, link no longer available)
  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, and cut into quarters
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (I used gluten free)
  • 1 stick soft butter
  • 2/3 cup warm milk
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup Fontina cheese
  • 1/4 cup Marscapone or cream cheese
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 small onion, cut into strips and caramelized (onion + 1 tbs butter + 1 tbs EVVO + 1 tsp sugar cooked over low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and brown)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 4 ounces sliced Genoa or other Italian-style salami and/or prosciutto, chopped
  • 6 slices of bacon, chopped

-Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with cold water covering them by about an inch. Cover the pan and bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain them and let them cool slightly.

-While potatoes are cooking, cook the bacon over medium-high heat in a skillet until desired done-ness. When bacon is almost cooked to your liking, add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook until bacon is crispy and onion is translucent.

-Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the dish with half the the bread crumbs, turning it to spread the crumbs evenly.

-When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Place the potatoes in a bowl and mash them until smooth (I left some lumps though). Stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter, the milk, 1 cup of the grated cheese, the egg, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the mozzarella, salami, Fontina, caramelized onions, and the bacon/onion mixture.

-Melt the remaining butter and mix with the remaining breadcrumbs, adding more or less butter or breadcrumbs until the mixture is clumpy.

-Heat the oven to 400º. Spread the potato mixture evenly in the dish, dot with  of butter, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of grated cheese. (This dish can be prepared to this point and refrigerated for up to 24 hours).

-Right before baking, sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs generously over the top.

-Bake the dish until the top is browned and the center is hot, 40 to 45 minutes (50 minutes to an hour if it was refrigerated). Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 10.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Balsamic Brussells Sprouts -- Thanksgiving Day Side Dish Extrodinare!

Thanks to my move, I am without my resources for proper recipe creation and completion. While I'm job hunting and Cory is saving money, we're living with Cory's Aunt. This means I have a borrowed kitchen, and a borrowed pantry, and I don't feel right making a huge mess and using up ingredients that aren't mine. Plus, all of my kitchen stuff is in boxes waiting for us to move into our own place. So, my blog cooking time has been limited.

Not to mention, all my food photography props are still in Massachusetts, and I'm not sure how to get them to Texas, or if I should just start over and begin scouring the local Goodwill for cheap replacements.

Napkin--Food Styling Tool of Champions

However, I have been cooking a little, and trying to snap some pictures of particularly successful recipes. It's just difficult for me to post recipes with bad pictures, since I was SO CLOSE to "getting it right" with my photography right up until the move. I think, for sake of my little audience not leaving me, I need to suck it up and keep on posting regardless of whether my pictures are up to my standards or not.

It is the BIGGEST FOODIE HOLIDAY OF THE YEAR this week and I'm way behind. I only have two recipes for you all, but hopefully you'll enjoy them! Most of my family claims to hate brussels sprouts, so I've made it my mission to make believers out of them, since it's one of my very favorite veggies. Usually I just roast them with a sprinkle of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and then a drizzle of truffle oil once cooked, but sometimes I go a little more crazy, as seen here.

This recipe was actually photographed BEFORE the move, but I'd been putting it off since I had better pictures of other recipes to work with and I felt just "meh" about how these pictures came out. Now it's my last reserve recipe for a while. Thankfully, it's a good one! Savory bacon, sweet caramelized onions, delicious brussels sprouts, all in a tangy chocolate balsamic glaze. Yum!

Chocolate Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

  • 5 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced into strips
  • 1 tbs butter + 1 tbs oil
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 lb brussels sprouts, sliced in half
  • 1/3 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tbs chocolate balsamic vinegar

-In a large skillet, cook the bacon to your liking.

-While bacon is cooking, caramelize the onions with the butter and oil. Halfway through, you can add in the sugar to speed up the process. Set aside.

-Add the brussels sprouts to the bacon and cook until just beginning to soften. Add the chicken stock and vinegar and bring to high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until sauce begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.

-Add caramelized onions. If the sauce has not thickened up, you may add a cornstarch slurry (3 tbs water to 1 tbs corn starch) and mix well.

I imagine this would be DIVINE with a few sprinkles of goat cheese crumbles as well!

Austin Eats -- South Congress Cafe

I'm thinking this might be a reoccurring post--Austin Eats! Just be prepared for dark, lackluster photography as I still have not yet mastered the art of shooting in low, artificial light, oy. I'm new to this amazing city and even though I'm pinching pennies while I look for a full time job, I still manage to make it out of the house occasionally to sample some of what this Foodie City has to offer! I've been here about two and a half weeks now, and here is a sampling of what I've experienced so far.

As you may know, Cory and I arrived in Austin just one day before our one year anniversary. Cory wanted to mark the occasion by taking me to a fancy restaurant, and his boss suggested the South Congress Cafe.

The South Congress Cafe is, obviously, on South Congress. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the area, South Congress is definitely a must-see for visitors. The street is lined with all sorts of funky shops and boutiques, and when the weather is nice you can find the empty lots full of food trucks and local artisans selling their wares. There are also a choice number of great restaurants, and the South Congress Cafe is no exception.

At $20-$30 a plate, this restaurant was the perfect "fancy" place for our budget. A bit pricier than we'd choose for a regular night out, but just right for our special occasion. We were seated promptly and given bread immediately--a nice touch! The drink special was an awesome frozen mojito (it was a daily special and I can't remember what the flavor was, maybe watermelon?), which I sucked down two of during our meal. I added a small Very Bleu salad to my entree as well.

For our entrees, I got the Crispy Duck Confit, and Cory got the Jalapeno Venison Meatloaf. I poked fun at Cory for getting MEATLOAF for our fancy dinner, but this was probably the most gourmet meatloaf I've ever tried. Slightly spicy, and the meat was so well seasoned and cooked that I would have had no idea I was eating venison, as typically I am not a big deer meat fan.

Fanciest Meatloaf EVER

My duck was not what I was expecting--I suppose every time I've ordered duck it's been medium rare duck breast and not confit--but it was great to try. I think I prefer just the seared breast, but this was definitely a tasty dish. I actually think I enjoyed the side dishes more than the meat, as it was paired with an amazing sweet potato au gratin (that even my sweet-potato-hater fiancee enjoyed!), a fennel salad, and mole. I loved how the mole gave the confit a little bit of southwestern flair. Very enjoyable and tasty!

Dessert was butterscotch creme brulee for me (pictured towards the top of this post), and a brownie sundae for Cory. Both were absolutely incredible, and despite being pretty full we were able to make room to lick our plates clean. Now, I'm not saying that this food directly convinced Cory to propose later in the night, but I wouldn't be surprised if the deliciousness of this meal gave him the extra boost to pop the question once we got home!

While I would love to come back here and try other dishes that caught my eye--Filet Mignon, Morita Oil Seafood Risotto, Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese Appetizer--it's a bit too out of our budget to really go here often. I'd love to check out their Happy Hour menu though. I LOVE that Austin has Happy Hour! It's a wonderful way to try new places on a budget. I plan on bringing my mom here when she visits in the late winter, because it definitely is a nice place for special occasions.

South Congress Cafe is located at 1600 South Congress, Austin, TX. They are open 10am-10pm weekdays, and 9am-10pm weekends and a daily brunch menu. Happy Hour is from 3-6pm weekdays.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Road Trip 2013 -- Boston to Austin, (Leg 2, Nashville)

Part II of my Road Trip from Massachusetts to Texas! Read Part 1 here, or check out my review of 400 Degrees Chicken here!

The second "day trip" day I decided on was Nashville, TN.

I didn't know much about Nashville other than "Music and Stuff." It didn't occur to me that it was specifically COUNTRY music and stuff, and since Country isn't my very favorite genre--not that there's anything wrong with it, just not something I listen to often, as in I got a 1 on a 20 point Trivia round on country music one time--I felt a little lost in trying to find things to do.

Then I assumed we could just do "Elvis Stuff" not realizing that was MEMPHIS... okay. Anyway. What to do in Nashville? This was the question I asked myself as we set out from the far corner of Tennessee, where we'd stayed over night, and headed to the Country Music Capitol of the World.

The Grand Ole Opry.
Now that you've seen this picture, you really don't need to go.

I decided our first stop should be the Grand Ole Opry, simply because it sounded famous. It was also next to a mall, which was helpful because we needed to pick up some more road trip supplies (I needed leggings because I failed to realize it was still kinda cold everywhere that wasn't our destination, and Cory needed a bike lock). The mall was the most thrilling part of this stop.

Note to self: The Grand Ole Opry is probably much more interesting when you have tickets to go to a show at the Grand Ole Opry. We took some pictures and then were on our way.

The next stop was the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art. It looked like an interesting stop, and since neither of us had much interest in the Country Hall of Fame, it seemed like a solid choice. We ended up spending the Late Night Admission price though, since we got there with only 30 minutes left of the free admission. Oh well. The upside to late night admission is that there is a little snack bar and drink station, so I imagine sipping a wine while walking around the grounds would be a very fun date night.

The history of Cheekwood is actually pretty interesting--and I admittedly had no idea about it until locating the link to the website--but the Cheek family was an early entrepreneurial family and their son was the creator of Maxwell Coffee. The mansion was bought with the Maxwell House fortune, and eventually the grounds were converted from a private home to a public art museum. Pretty neat!

Art inside the one section you could take pictures

The grounds were gorgeous and full of installation art, which was illuminated at night. Inside the mansion were more installations and cool things to explore. It got dark before we explored much of the grounds, but it was definitely a nice stop. I suggest checking it out if you have the day in Nashville.

The grounds, before it got too dark

Then it was off to the city proper, to sample my favorite meal of the trip (which I am STILL CRAVING): Nashville Hot Chicken. Read about it on my blog post if you want the details ;)

And, because I HAVE to collect a shot glass from every place I visit, after our chicken we ran down to the main street to find a souvenir shop. Downtown was alive with music, despite being the middle of the week. I really wish we'd decided to spend the night, because I would have loved to sit in one of the fun looking bars and sip a beer and listen to some of the original music. Though I don't listen to much country on my own, I can say this: Country singers can SING. I appreciate it much better live than I do recorded. Oh well.

We ducked into the first souvenir shop we saw, took some pictures, and rushed back to the car. Then it was off again, with Texas in our sights.

I guess Elvis visited Nashville sometimes

We ended up spending one more night on the road, around Little Rock Arkansas. Nothing really happened here of note, though. We got ihop, and made a pit stop at the most sketch-tastic truck station ever. I saw a display of souvenirs and looked for an Arkansas shot glass (I HAVE to!) but they had EVERY STATE EXCEPT ARKANSAS. So weird. Sadly, I did not get a shot glass. Oh well.

Finally, we hit Texas. And I had one thing on my mind: In-n-Out! The famous Cali burger chain has branched out to Texas, and the Dallas area is the closest one we'll find, so we had to make it a stop on the very last bit of our trip. You may remember (but probably don't, it was when this blog was a baby) the time I had In-n-Out in LA and fell madly in love with their Animal Style burger. I've been dreaming of my grand return ever since. It was just as good as I remember, and you best bet I'm making that drive again sometime.

Cory was not so impressed. "Meh," he said, "it's a burger."

I, however, was super thrilled. Totally worth the digestive hell I went through later.

Finally, three hours or so later, we made it to Austin! What a trip!

Finally at our final destination, looking tired!

And, if you want to know why Cory was hoping we'd be back before our anniversary... 

Just a touch too small...

head on over to my other blog to hear the tale of our... ENGAGEMENT!! :D

Yes. I am marrying this man.

Travel Tips (aka DON'T MAKE MY MISTAKES)
-Skip the Grand Ole Opry unless you actually have tickets to a show. It's too out of the way and there really is nothing near it and NOTHING to do on site.

-Get to Cheekwood before dusk, preferably way before dusk, so that the museum is free! Otherwise you DO get a cool light show and access to a bar, but it's $20.

-See some live music in Downtown Nashville -- this was my big regret, we heard so many awesome bands coming from the bars, but had zero time to check them out. Plus they were all in bars and drinking when we still had a few hours of driving to do was not so cool.

-Memphis probably would have been more fun

-Eat more Nashville Hot Chicken.

Traffic. Ugh.
(pay no attention to the gas pump behind me)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Road Trip 2013 -- Boston to Austin, (Leg 1, DC)

I figured it was about time to blog about my road trip from MA to TX, so here goes!

I've dreamed about taking a cross country road trip pretty much from the moment I was issued my driver's license. Despite being a terrible driver with little patience for traffic, my wanderlust was always deeper than my dislike of being behind a wheel and I dreamed about the day I would point myself outward bound with home behind me and adventure in front and drive off onto the endless winding roads of my home country.

Our friends dressed up as gender-bended Avengers

My move to Texas came up sooner than I expected--as moves of this sort are wont to do--and so my first cross country road trip was a little different than I'd hoped. I'd be traveling with the love of my life, which was a plus, but we had to be in Austin in time for him to get back to work, which put a time restraint on things. Also, little did I know that he had a very important reason for wanting to get to Austin before our anniversary that week... but more on that in a later post (unless you're already following me on Facebook and Instagram and saw the news)! Instead of leisurely sightseeing, we'd be making our way as quickly as possible. I picked two stops for half day excursions and let our GPS decide the routes between, getting us from MA to TX in just four days.

After an amazing weekend of saying goodbye to friends and family (and Finn, who cannot join us until we're in our own apartment), we set out to our first stop: Washington DC. The year my 8th grade class was supposed to visit our nation's capitol was the year the towers fell, and due to a bunch of unfortunate circumstances, by the time we'd re-planned the class trip a year later I was unable to go. So making Washington DC our first stop was a must.

Tappan Zee Bridge

We stayed with my high school friend, Matt (whose job and reason for living near DC is top secret so clearly I've assumed he is James Bond), and it was nice to catch up over homemade fried chicken his girlfriend had made us. Traffic and a long goodbye brunch unfortunately got us there at 10pm, far too late to see any sights and both Matt and his girlfriend had to work the next day, so our visit was brief. The next morning it was up early and into the city for a whirlwind sightseeing.

"What do you want to see?" Cory asked me as we stared at a map after exiting the pristine Metro. Our plan of eating breakfast en route was foiled by signs warning us food on the Metro was a fineable offense. "Well, we're on the mall, let's see..." I said, my gloved finger sliding across the National Mall map. I hadn't made a plan, I had assumed everything would be much closer together than it actually was. I basically had to pick one thing and make it quick. Since we could view the capitol building from where we stood, I landed on the furthest landmark: the white house. I figured a trip to the capitol wouldn't be complete without seeing where the president hung out.

I was a little sad that we couldn't get closer. I guess the White House is one of those things that just looks bigger on TV. The most we could do was take a picture, so we did. I giggled at the bee hive visible from the famous front lawn, and we exited through a sculpture garden with some interesting art, which ended up being my favorite picture spot in DC. One of my favorite artists, Louise Bourgeoise, had her spider sculpture there. There was also a huge sculpture that looked exactly like... uh... well to be discreet I guess I'll just say some "lady parts." I loved the sculpture garden and took the most pictures here. Time was running out, so set out to find food. I suggested we get to the Smithsonian Natural History building, because museum food was typically delicious, and we could check out some museum stops.

The food was only okay, and the price was ridiculous. Nearly $40 for us to have glorified fast food. However, it fueled us for the rest of the day, and that was enough. We gave ourselves and hour at the museum, and then it was off again, with our next stop being Nashville. I wished we'd taken advantage of the long line of food trucks on either side of the street outside of the Metro, we would have saved a bundle and probably been more satisfied.

Mediocre, over-priced me

I'm glad we chose to quickly tour the Natural History Museum. It was pretty fun, and I would have liked to spend more time there. I guess I'll just have to come back to DC someday!

The Hope Diamond.
(Full disclosure: I could not stop humming the Mary Kate & Ashley Mystery Agency song)

Sometime before we turned in for the night--the Super 8 Motels we stayed at along the way were all under $60 per night--we made one more food stop. Cracker Barrels were everywhere, and while it wasn't my favorite chain restaurant by far, Cory had never been to one and had always wanted to try. So, we followed the signs to the restaurant.

And got lost. Twice. And turned in the opposite direction. Twice. Sometime during all this we decided that Tennessee road signs must just be purposely misleading, and in cahoots with our GPS lady to be the MOST confusing. By the time we finally got to Cracker Barrel we were RAVENOUS. Cory got his go-to homestyle meal (chicken fried steak) and I ordered a fried chicken from the "lighter fare" menu. After a day of running around and traveling, it was great to sit down to some comfort food--even if I had to fight with my inner foodie about eating at a chain.

Kisses in traffic are the best kind.

Travel Tips (aka DON'T MAKE MY MISTAKES)
-If you only have a half day in a city, plan in advance. Know how long it takes to get where you're going from where you arrive, and know the things you MUST see. Had I planned ahead, I definitely would have woken up earlier and spent more time sightseeing and touring the museum. I probably would have had time to figure out a better lunch spot, too.

-Take advantage of food trucks! This was my biggest regret from DC--the food from those trucks looked AMAZING and would have been 1/4 of the cost of the meal we had in the museum.

-Super 8 Motels are a great value for the price. They are conveniently EVERYWHERE, have big rooms, and breakfast is included. On the off chance it was $45 per PERSON, I hid in the car while Cory booked the room. However, they never asked how many people were staying in the room, so maybe we weren't being so sneaky afterall.

-There's no shame in chain food. When you've been driving for 10 hours, sometimes you need greasy chicken fried steak more than you need to indulge in a fancy dinner.

-Even if you're moving to a state with a mild winter, NOVEMBER IS STILL COLD EVERYWHERE ELSE. My one set of winter things was buried too far in my over-packed car to retrieve, so I ended up having to buy gloves from a souvenir shop in DC.

Part II, coming soon!