Opinions on food, drink and articles/TV shows involving them

I consider myself a foodie, so I don’t take the phrase “The best meal of my life” lightly. I’ve eaten many wonderful meals throughout my lifetime, including a Michelin star restaurant. However, there is one meal that I will (for now) remember as the best meal of my life (and that’s definitely saying something!)

While visiting Nashville for a conference, I met some people who I became friends with and we went to dinner. It was a Saturday night and we had no reservations. We had a couple places in mind and would go to whichever one had the shortest wait. We stopped at Etch first and they had a small table that our party of 3 was happy to take!

Our little table became very crowded when we all had waters, drinks, and appetizers, but we make everything work. When another couple left, the restaurant offered another larger table, so they were very accommodating!

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Dessert: peach tart with peach sorbet and a vanilla creme anglaise. Of course, this was at the end of the meal, but it’s fun to think about dessert first! This is everything you want in a nice southern dessert: warm, slightly tangy, with sweet cinnamon.

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Beef with cashew butter, a berry chutney, parsnip puree, and lightly fried okra. There were so many elements on the plate and usually when there are that many things, flavors can be lost. Not with Etch, though! I could taste all of the flavors and I have never had a meal where all the flavors complimented each other so nicely.

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Salad course and butter tasting. Steak Diane, Taco, truffle tallegio, and ginger cashew butter. What a fun idea to have a butter tasting. These definitely had a higher caliber of flavor and depth. I couldn’t stop eating them.

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Yummy cocktail. It was a spiced Sangria. It had a nice fruity and slightly spicy flavor with clove and cardamom. Definitely not just a regular old sangria!

Overall I’d give the meal more than 5 stars if that fit into my rating system. However, my limit is 5 stars, so I’ll give it that. I can’t tell you how wonderful this meal was and how excited I am to share with you the best meal of my life!

What’s been the best meal of your life? Share in the comments!

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I love making meals that can be transformed into other things: meatballs are one of those meals. You can serve them with pasta, vegetables, or on  burger. One day, I decided to make meatballs using ground beef, pork, and veal.

I like to add veggies to food whenever I can, so to the meatball mixture, I added sautéed yellow peppers and onions. I also added coconut flour, egg, salt, and pepper. With the ingredients, you might notice that this recipe is paleo. While I haven’t made the plunge into complete paleo-ism, I have enjoyed exploring cooking this way. My mother-in-law has celiac, so paleo is an easy way to make sure she doesn’t get sick when I’m cooking (always a plus!)

Although I haven’t tried a Paleo diet consistently for any length of time, I had a friend who ate paleo for a month and she said that she had a lot of energy, so I’m sure there are a lot of health benefits to it. I am a big believer that we need fat to fuel our brains, so I enjoy my steak and bacon, but balance it with other veggies and other foods!

For the meat mixture, I decided to try putting the meat into portobello mushroom caps as well as form some meatballs to enjoy on their own.

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Here is a pic of the meatballs when they were done. I baked them at 350 degrees until they had a nice golden brown on them. They were delicious! I have swallow fried them before and that way they get some char on them, but this way, they brown slightly. I would say the swallow fry might be better if you’re going to eat them all in one sitting and baking them in the oven would be better if you’re planning on freezing some for later.

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Here is a picture of the stuffed portobello mushroom cap. I decided that putting the meat in raw cooks the mushroom a little more than needed. After researching, I found that when people make something like this, they tend to cook the meat first at least slightly, then chop or grind it to stuff the mushroom. Overall, they tasted great, but if I were to do it again, I would try to cook the meat a little first.

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The third way I made the “meatballs” was to transform them into burgers. These are packaged to go into the freezer until a nice warm day when we want to grill.

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I’d definitely recommend making meatballs this way. It’s easy and you can make several meals at once, which I love doing!

Oh Costco, how I love thee. On two separate trips to Costco, I had the same food sample of fried cheese. The first time, I thought it was really tasty, but was buying a lot of other things and didn’t think I would use all the cheese and the other perishables I was buying.

The second visit, when they had the same sample, I knew it was a sign that I needed it. Making this snack is really simple. The person making the samples at Costco had a griddle and the cheese. I noticed some oily residue on the griddle and asked if she was using butter or oil. She said it was just the cheese…so easy!

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Here’s the cheese packaging, in case you feel obliged to get some after I tell you again how easy this is!

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I heated up the skillet to medium heat for a few minutes before putting in the cheese slices. When the cheese is in the pan, don’t touch it for the first few minutes. You’ll notice the edges start to brown when they are also brown underneath. Cook them for a few minutes on each side.

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I served mine on some multi-grain sourdough bread from Trader Joe’s, mainly because it was all I had. The cheese seemed to take away from the flavor of the sourdough a bit, but it was still tasty. The lady making the samples at Costco was saying that this makes an excellent grilled cheese sandwich, so maybe next time, I’ll have to try that! I give the fried cheese an ecstatic 5 stars!

I love that kids are being exposed to cooking at earlier ages. I have many foodie friends who let their children help with age-appropriate tasks during meal-prep.

Growing up, my mom baked a lot. When she was baking a cake, she would give my brother and me a pastry bag and a small plate and let us decorate the plate. I learned to do some really nice piping on cakes. This may also be where my love for sugar came from, though this yearning for the sweet stuff has waned as an adult.

When I was older and staying home with my brother after school, my mom would often hear those dreaded words “I’m bored”. (I grew up in the time before the internet and IPads, so I was in the generation is where being bored was a thing). She would often tell me to bake something, as we kept a lot of boxed baked goods in the house.

One time when I was a kid I baked a cake for my mom’s birthday and frosted it within 45 minutes time. I had band practice after school and knew I’d have limited time, so I asked my brother to mix the batter for me. I quickly threw it in the oven to bake. The box said to cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then cool completely, but the only part I read was the “cool for 10 minutes” part. I frosted the cake and, surprise, the frosting did not melt completely over the cake. It actually turned out well and my mom was so surprised at how I did it in such a short period of time.

It wasn’t really until college that I began cooking on my own and watching the food network. I fell in love with Wolfgang Puck’s accent and his restaurant “The Source” in DC is super yummy. It was in college that I also encountered the genius that is Alton Brown for the very first time. After college, I started to cook more and more and loved it. Sometimes, I wish I had started cooking even earlier.

Rachel vs. Guy Kid’s Cook-off shows 10 to 12 year-old kids making things that I only found out how to make in the past couple years. It’s really amazing some of the things these kids are doing; I would have never imagined cooking with brie or lobster at their age.

I was a little bit disappointed with the finale. There were so many kids left at the beginning of the finale, I thought there were too many to fairly pick a winner. I think it would have been better if there were more episodes and a few more kids eliminated before having a finale, but I guess it was more of a surprise this way. The winner was Gibson, who didn’t have any wins near the end of the show, so it was definitely a surprise.

One nice thing about the show was that the kids were helpful to one another. When one was scrambling and another was finished early, they went to help each other. This was such a nice gesture! On the shows with adults, the contestants are usually all out for themselves. I find it refreshing to have shows with kids who are looking out for one another.

Are there any other food shows you really enjoy? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Warning: After reading this post, you may feel the need to go out and buy an Instant Pot. Do not be alarmed. It really is an awesome gadget that I’ve been using a lot lately, as you can probably tell by my Mac & Cheese post. I should probably mention that I’m definitely not being given money or anything else to rave about the Instant Pot, all of this enthusiasm is completely genuine!

This time, I decided to make chicken using the Instant Pot. The problem I have with meat is that most of it is in the freezer. In order to make it, I have to defrost it for a couple  days and then be prepared to make it at that time. I often cook on whims and make whatever I am craving on that particular day. I don’t often plan out every meal and am not prepared enough to make sure I cook the meat I take out of the freezer before it goes bad.

I should also mention that my husband and I eat mostly vegetarian food at home, so having meat is a special treat. Keeping those things in mind, I didn’t have chicken defrosted the day I made this chicken. I began to search for pressure cooker chicken breast recipes that allow for frozen meat. I rejoiced when I found some! More on the meat later…

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The Instant Pot has a sauté function, which takes a couple minutes to warm up and stays on for 30 minutes, unless you switch to another setting. I sautéed some chopped red onions and mushrooms with salt, pepper, and Emeril’s Essence until they were softened. You can find the Emeril’s Essence recipe here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/emerils-essence-recipe.html. Personally, I’m not a fan of Emeril’s television personality, but this stuff is really good!

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Here’s a picture of the Instant Pot with the sauté function on. After the onions and mushrooms were softened, I added some water and the frozen chicken breasts, which I seasoned on both sides with salt, pepper, and more Emeril’s Essence. I cooked the  chicken using the poultry option, which cooks for 15 minutes. After releasing the steam and checking the meat, it was still pink, so I did another full cycle of the poultry function.

I could have probably used a little less time, but the meat was still very tender! I was surprised that the mushrooms were quite tasty and were not too chewy, as is often my experience when I put them in vegetable soups.

After the chicken was done, I cut it into cubes and put it in a bowl covered with aluminum foil. The foil kept it warm while I was cooking other things. I kept the juice from the meat in the Instant Pot and used it to make a gravy. I switched back to the sauté function and added white wine, heavy cream, corn starch, and a little salt and pepper to the meat drippings. I whisked the mixture until it thickened and served it with the chicken.

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I give it 5 stars easily (my rating system does not allow for more). I served the dish over rice and it was delectable! My serving spoon says, “Save room for seconds” and I definitely did have seconds of this meal!

Growing up, my mom did not own a pressure cooker, so I had very few ideas about what you could cook with such a gadget. I have a feeling that many of my friends have very little knowledge about how to use one as well. For example, during a cooking challenge at a friend’s house, we drew knives to select our cooking method (can you tell we watched a lot of Top Chef?). One of the methods was the pressure cooker and everyone stayed away from that one. A few years later, I would be ready to delve into using such a device, albeit an electronic one.

My husband and I had an Instant Pot on our wedding registry and received it as a gift. Up until recently, I had only used it for cooking rice, which it cooks perfectly. While my mother-in-law was visiting last October, she and my husband made pressure cooked ribs in it and they were AMAZING. They were so tender and fell off the bone. Here’s the link to that recipe: http://instantpot.com/instant-pot-bbq-ribs/

Below is a picture of the Instant Pot in all it’s glory! Seriously though, this gadget could replace many in your kitchen. You can see all the functions it has: from sauté to slow-cooking to specific proteins. It’s got a function for everything. If you don’t like the amount of time programmed for a particular function, you can change it, so it’s fully customizable and wonderful!

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Fast forward 5 months after the rib adventure and I decided to make pressure cooker Macaroni and Cheese after a friend and neighbor made it for my birthday. He gave me the recipe, but his recipe called for cream cheese, which I did not have. As it was a cold and rainy night the evening I made this recipe, I did not feel like going out to get cream cheese, so I found another recipe. I searched for recipes specific to the Instant Pot that I owned and found one that looked good.

In addition to the ingredients required, I also added dried chopped onion and a few sprinkles of garlic powder. I find that dried chopped onion really adds a nice flavor and texture to macaroni and cheese. I even add dried chopped onion along with other dried herbs to the boxed macaroni and cheese when it’s cooking to soften them and give the macaroni more flavor.

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For this recipe, you cook the macaroni for 4 minutes, YES 4 MINUTES! Of course, the pressure has to build up first which takes 5-10 minutes, but I was amazed at how little cooking time was required!

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When serving, I added some freshly ground pepper and more hot sauce. I used Frank’s Red Hot, because you know, “I put that #^&* on everything!” I give the finished product 3.5 stars. I’m not sure whether it was the pasta I used (it contained artichoke), or the extra dried onion and garlic that I added, but it wasn’t as good as I imagined it to be. Next time, I’ll follow the recipe my friend gave me and go with something I know is going to be good! After playing with the Instant Pot more, I’m definitely a pressure cooker convert and hope to make many more recipes using the it!

Here’s the recipe: http://www.copykat.com/2016/01/10/instant-pot-macaroni-and-cheese/ Enjoy!

 

When in the mood for a cheesy comforting soup, I decided to make Broccoli Cheddar Soup. It has cheese AND vegetables! What could be better?!

I was inspired to make this soup after a trip to Panera with my brother. He always gets broccoli cheddar soup in a bread bowl. I had a bite of his soup and it was quite tasty. Instead of trying to find a Panera copycat recipe, I did a quick google search. The first recipe that came up was a food network recipe, so I was sold. It was titled “Almost Famous Broccoli-Cheddar Soup” and after reading the title, my mouth began to water.

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At this point, the soup was still cooking. After this picture was taken, I used an immersion blender to blend everything to a silky smooth texture. You can also blend it in a blender in small batches if you don’t have an immersion blender.

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Almost ready to put the finishing touches on the soup.

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Time to pour in the cheese. Don’t worry, I didn’t skimp on the cheese. This picture was taken after already pouring in some cheese and whisking it in!

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I ended up adding some cayenne pepper and extra black pepper to the finished product to give it a bit more zip! Unfortunately, I didn’t have sourdough bread bowls, but I did have sourdough bread. My husband has been buying multi-grain sourdough bread from Trader Joe’s recently and let me tell you, it’s one of the best breads I’ve ever tasted! It also has very few ingredients (read: fresh and containing no preservatives or additives). Pick up a similar bread at the grocery store and it’ll contain weird ingredients you never knew they put in bread! But, I digress…

We served the finished product with the multi-grain sourdough bread and it was delicious. The recipe makes a fairly large amount of soup, but it was so good that we finished in the next day.

I give the finished product 5 stars! Here’s the link to the recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/almost-famous-broccoli-cheddar-soup-recipe.html