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August 14 – One Year Blog Anniversary

14 Aug

Today is a very special day!  It marks one year since I began Sweet Southern Comfort!  This blog was originally started as a way for me to keep track of my favorite recipes and try out new ones for D, but it’s definitely evolved into something much more special to me.  I’ve learned so much from the other bloggers I follow on Word Press and have been inspired by each and every one of you!  So much so, that my stack of recipes to try/adapt/create has probably tripled in size from a year ago!  Here is a link to my very first post: Sunday Supper-Lemon Spaghetti.  This recipe remains one of my go-to comfort foods and I encourage you to try it out sometime.  It’s very easy!  While I may not always have been the most consistent blogger, I did manage to publish 48 posts during my first year of blogging!  Next year, I hope to become more consistent about blogging and bring you all more Southern-focused content.  Here’s a little blog-related re-cap for you:

Top Posts
1. Caramel Cake – My ultimate favorite dessert.  I haven’t tried to make this again since last February as it took me HOURS to make the caramel icing, and I’m still not sure I perfected it.  This might be one of those treats I will stick with having when I’m home with my family and we can buy it from Cindy Lou.
2. Christmas Treat: Peppermint White Chocolate Macarons – Another dessert that was a true labor of love.  I want to take a macaron pastry class at the ICE sometime this year so keep an eye out for future macaron recipes!
3. Fried Red Tomatoes? – My first attempt at frying and a big hit!  Hopefully this year, I can tackle fried chicken!
4. Sunday Supper: Low Sodium Chicken Tortilla Soup – My go-to weekday winter dinner.  Healthy and delicious!
5. Special Valentine’s Day Steak Dinner – Filet Mignon with Cognac Cream Sauce – Hands down the yummiest sauce for your filet.  Great for special occasions (or just any occasion)!  D and I learned how to make this on our first Valentine’s Day together and try to make it a couple of times every year since.

Least Popular Posts – They’re all still awesome so what are you waiting for, check one of these pages out! 🙂
1. Christmas Dinner: Christmas Crostini – This is a really cute, festive and easy appetizer to make at your next holiday get-together.  I would serve it with the Pear Bellinis (better known as Christmas in a Cup)!
2. Oregon Coast Fresh Vegetable Salad – The key to this recipe is having super fresh vegetables and dicing everything immediately before serving.  My pictures definitely did not do our meal at Anna’s by the Sea justice.
3. Sunday Supper: End of Winter Pasta with Cabbage, Speck and Grappa – I make this recipe once a year at the tail-end of winter.  That one meal leaves me with lunches/dinners for a few days and is rich and hearty enough that I’m more than satisfied not to make it again until the next year.

My Personal Favorite Posts – it was hard to pick just three, but here are my favorite recipes I’ve made over the past year
1. Christmas Dinner: Dad’s Cream of Chestnut Soup – This recipe always reminds me of family and the holidays.  It’s so unique and different.  And delicious!
2. Sunday Supper: Hearty & Healthy Borscht – Soups are easy weeknight meals and this one is low-sodium and it’s main ingredient is beets, which are really good for you!
3. Homemade Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie – It’s always flattering when people compliment your cooking/baking, but I was especially flattered when someone told me that this was better than the original!  The best part is the ingredients that go into this pie are quite cheap and it is incredibly easy to make.

Thank you for reading during the past year!  Looking forward to many more years to come!

Outdoor Dining: Campari Citrus Popsicles

5 Aug

It feels like a million degrees in NYC right now.  The only way to beat the heat is to stay inside blasting my AC (which is already on it’s last legs) or toughing it out in the heat outside.  I’ve been opting for the latter recently and having a lot of ice water and popsicles/ice cream/etc. on hand has helped me survive.  The only thing I like more than an icy cold popsicle is an icy cold popsicle that also has my favorite apertif Campari in it!  I found this recipe at The Kitchn.  If you have any leftover from the mix, you can combine it with club soda and lots of ice and enjoy an afternoon cocktail while your popsicles are freezing.  Instant gratification never tasted so good!

Campari Citrus Popsicles 
Recipe found here

Ingredients
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 cups grapefruit juice
1/2 cup Campari

Directions
1. Mix water and sugar together in a small pan over low heat.  Bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves.  Now you have made “simple syrup”!
2. Allow the simple syrup to boil for 4 minutes then remove from heat and cool.
3. Combine the citrus juice and Campari and 1 cup of the cooled simple syrup (you might have a little extra, keep this in case you want to sweeten).  Adjust to taste.  The mixture will be VERY sweet – it will get less sweet in popsicle form.  If you want a LESS tart popsicles, add 1-2 more tbsp of simple syrup.  If you want LESS sweet popsicles, add 1-2 tbsp of PLAIN water to the mix.
4. Pour mixture into popsicle molds and freeze at least 8 hours to overnight.  Enjoy your grapefruit-Campari-club soda cocktail while you are waiting. 🙂

Outdoor Dining: Grilled Fish Tacos

31 Jul
Grilled Fish Tacos

stock photo because I was so hungry I forgot my camera!!

I found a recipe for grilled fish tacos here and I couldn’t wait to make these for a dinner al fresco one night this summer.  Unlike most fish tacos that are battered, fried and salted, these fish tacos are grilled, lightly seasoned and very healthy.  We served these with a corn and tomato salad and margaritas (decidedly not healthy, but a great complement to the meal).  For those of you like me who HATE cilantro, you can omit it from the recipe.  However, I included a little bit because D loves it and I couldn’t taste it in the final product.  I have no idea why, but I only took a picture of the fish pre-cooking so there’s no “finished” product photo to share here.  D remembers that I was so hungry when I made these that I refused to let him take any pictures before diving in.  Lesson learned for next time around!

Grilled Fish Taco Marinade

Grilled Fish Tacos
Serves 4
Adapted from recipe found here

Ingredients
1 red onion, chopped, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, divided (optional)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp fresh lime juice, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1 pound tilapia (note: you can also use striped bass, sturgeon or mahi mahi.  I prefer tilapia because it’s the flakiest and does well in a marinade)
Soft flour tortillas
1-2 avocados, diced
1-2 tomatoes, diced
1/2 small head of cabbage, cored, thinly sliced
Shredded cheese
Lime wedges
Jalapenos (optional)

Directions
1. Stir 1/2 chopped onion, 1/2 of the cilantro, lime juice, garlic and oregano in a medium bowl.  Spread half of the mixture over bottom of a glass baking dish.
2. Season fish with pepper.  (No need for salt with this lime-y marinade!)
3. Arrange fish atop onion mixture and spoon remaining mixture over fish.
4. Cover and chill for at least 1 hour (flip fish halfway through so both sides marinate evenly).
5. Using a grill pan or a grill, brush lightly with oil and turn heat to medium-high.  Grill fish with some marinade still clinging to it until just opaque in center, 3 to 5 minutes per side.
6. Coarsely chop fish and place on platter.
7. Grill tortillas (about 10 seconds per side) or warm them in the over (5 minutes at 300 degrees).
8. Serve fish with warm tortillas, remaining onion and cilantro, along with avocado, lime wedges, cheese, cabbage, tomatoes, jalapenos and any other garnishes you have in your kitchen!

Homemade Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

30 Jun

Homemade Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

Earlier this summer, I made my first trip to Momofuku Milk Bar.  This place is RIDICULOUSLY good.  Naturally, I had to try (almost) everything on the menu in case I never made the 12 block trek again.  Here’s a review of everything we tried:

  • Cereal Milk – The cereal milk was ice cold milk with crushed cereal powder mixed in.  The texture was really strange to me and it was a little too sweet.
  • Cookies – We tried a compost cookie, a cornflake marshmallow cookie and a corn cookie.  The compost cookie was hands down the best; made with pretzels, chocolate chips, coffee grounds (it works!) and potato chips, the compost cookie contained literally everything but the kitchen sink!  one word or warning though: the cookies are served in plastic wrap which tends to make them a little greasy over the course of the day.
  • Dill Bagel Bomb – A bagel roll with dill cream cheese inside.  Probably would have tasted better eaten immediately instead of waiting until the next morning.  Pretty carb-heavy and not enough cream cheese.
  • Pistachio Croissant – YUM.  We heated this up for breakfast and it was delicious.  It was the perfect pistachio flavor and not too heavy, although I did have a bit of a sugar high heading into work that morning.
  • Birthday Cake Truffles – This was like eating a ball of cookie dough.  Super rich – we shared three truffles between six people and we were all satisfied.
  • Crack Pie – I read an article about “crack” foods in NY Mag last month which initially sparked my interest in checking out Momofuku Milk Bar.  If I could eat a slice of this pie every day, I would.  Each bite melts in your mouth and it the perfect combination of salty and sweet (much like the compost cookie).  It reminds me of chess pie, a Southern dessert from my childhood.  However, at $5.25 a slice and $44 a pie, adding a slice a day wasn’t exactly in my budget.  I did some searching and found a recipe from Bon Appetit for Crack Pie that I used to make my own “crack” pie.  I was a little shocked at just how much butter and sugar goes into this recipe (and not much else!), but was pleasantly surprised to discover the crust is made of oatmeal cookies.  We can consider this a “healthy” food then, right? 😉
Homemade Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

Homemade Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie
Recipe from Bon Appetit
Serves 12+ (this cake is very rich; you can make slices 1/2 the size of what you would normally do for pies)

Ingredients
For the Oatmeal Cookie Crust
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
5 1/2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Filling
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions
For the Oatmeal Cookie Crust
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray.
2. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl.
3. Using electric mixer (if you have one), beat mixture until light and fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute.
4. Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan; press out evenly to edges of pan.
5. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie completely.
6. Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together.
7. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

For the Filling
1. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.
2. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla and whisk until well blended.
3. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble).
4. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20-25 minutes longer.
5. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight. Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; keep chilled.
6. Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve cold.  (NOTE: Don’t add the powdered sugar until the pie is completely cool and right before serving.  I got excited and added mine pretty soon after taking the pie from the oven and it absorbed into the pie.  Whoops!)

Outdoor Dining: Campari Cocktail

29 May

Campari Cocktail

When I was ten, my mom and I took a mother-daughter trip to Switzerland.  We each had one carry-on suitcase for a ten day trip.  This meant we pretty much wore the same thing every day (minus clean underwear and socks) and I still have nightmares about our matching neon windbreaker jogging suits.  Weren’t the 90s a riot?  Clothing choices aside, it was an amazing trip where we visited some of the prettiest cities in Europe – Lugano, Lucerne, Grindelwald, and Zermatt, to name a few. We also ate a TON of cheese, nutella and muesli.  On this trip I was also introduced to Campari.  At dinner some nights, my mom would have a Campari on the rocks with a twist at the start of dinner.  One meal, she let me try a sip, which upon tasting, I promptly spit it out all over our table.  For being such a bright red drink, I was expecting a taste akin to Kool-Aid.  I was wrong.  Campari (read about it here or here) is VERY bitter.  My mom called the drink an “acquired taste” and I was content sticking with milk and Perrier for the rest of the trip.  Now, almost two decades after my first experience with Campari, I have “acquired” a taste for it and it’s actually one of my favorite summer drinks.  For a more potent pre-dinner apertif, I recommend drinking it exactly as my mom did on our trip – on the rocks in a lowball glass with a twist of lemon or orange.  For a more cocktail-type drink, check out the drink I’ve created below.  It’s very simple and goes great with appetizers or a meal like this one.  Drink outside for maximum refreshment!

Campari Cocktail
Serves 1

Ingredients
2 oz. Campari
1 Can of Club Soda
Splash Fresh Lemon Juice
Lemon Peel, for garnish
Ice

Directions
1. Put ice cubes in a highball glass.  (Note: In picture above, we used a lowball glass and one giant ice cube.  This made for a more potent cocktail.)
2. Add Campari to glass.
3. Fill glass with club soda and top with a splash of lemon juice.  If the cocktail is too bitter, add another splash of lemon juice.
4. Stir then add a piece of lemon peel for garnish.  (You can use a vegetable peeler or a paring knife to do this.)

Outdoor Dining: Crab Cakes with Citrus Avocado Cream, Spicy-Sweet Corn and Watermelon Salad

21 May

Crab Cakes with Citrus Avocado Cream and Spicy-Sweet Corn

Once spring/summer arrives bringing with them warm weather and sun, New Yorkers really embrace outdoor dining.  For the next four months or so, sidewalks outside restaurants become cramped with tables and diners enjoying an al fresco dinner in the warm summer air.  I love walking through the West Village on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, people watching (and puppy-watching – outdoor dining is pet-friendly after all!) at all of the brunch spots in the neighborhood.  D and I are no different in this respect – as soon as it becomes nice out, we try to eat any dinner we prepare on our roof deck.  This gave me this idea to write a series of posts this summer on Outdoor Dining.  These posts will be grill-friendly and/or refreshing meals for when you’re eating outside (read: no heavy pastas or super hot meals).  They will also be focused on ingredients that are freshest in the summer months (think corn, watermelon, tomatoes, etc.).  For my first post in this series, I wanted to make crab cakes with two refreshing summer sides: spicy-sweet corn and a watermelon salad.  Two recent blog posts inspired me in coming up with my recipes and also meal combination.  (You can see their posts here and here.)  These are “healthy” crab cakes because they use less breading, light mayo and are not deep fried.  I pan fried mine in a skillet, but you could also bake them in the oven if you wanted to be even healthier.  For those watching their sodium intake, crab meat IS high in sodium so this is something to be mindful of.)  In addition to the spicy-sweet corn and watermelon salad, we also served this meal with a refreshing campari cocktail (recipe here).  This was one of my favorite meals I’ve made recently and D agreed – he told me this meal was in my “top five” if not the best and has requested that I make this meal on a weekly basis.  Fortunately, the crab cakes and the corn both taste great cold so it won’t be that difficult to make extra and then have a second helping later in the week.  That is, if there are any leftover from your original batch – there weren’t when I made them! 🙂

Healthy Crab Cakes
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup skim milk
3 tbsp. light mayonnaise
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. fresh dill, chopped
1/2 tsp. Old Bay seasoning
1/4 tsp. dried tarragon
1/4 tsp. chili pepper flakes
Zest and Juice from 1 lemon (do the zesting first!)
3 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used panko)
3 tbsp butter, divided
1 pound cooked crab meat OR 3 cans (6 oz. each) of white crab meat (Note: I used canned because Whole Foods was out of fresh and rinsed the crab meat with water to try and remove some of the sodium brine)
Arugula (for crab cake bed/garnish)

Directions
1. In a large bowl, whisk together all ingredients except for last four (bread crumbs, butter, crab meat, arugula).
2. Fold crab meat into mixture.
3. Place bread crumbs in a shallow dish.
4. Gather approximately 1/6 of the crab meat mixture and form into a ball in your hands.  Roll in bread crumbs until covered.  Then press/form into a 3/4″ to 1″ thick patty.

Crab Cakes Pre-Skillet

This is what your crab cakes should look like before you put them in the skillet.

5. Repeat with remaining crab mixture.  You should have six crab cake patties when you are finished.
6. In a large skillet, melt 2 tbsp. butter over medium-high heat.  Place all six patties in skillet and cook for 3 minutes.  Don’t touch them once you put them in the pan!
7. Flip crab cakes over and cook on other side for three minutes.  If the pan is starting to burn, add remaining 1 tbsp. of butter.

Crab Cakes Cooking

Crab cakes cooking in the skillet

8. While the crab cakes are cooking, rinse some arugula and place a small amount on six dinner places.  When the crab cakes are finished, place each crab cake on top of a bed of arugula.  Serve immediately with citrus avocado cream (recipe below).

Citrus Avocado Cream
Adapted from Texana’s Kitchen
Serves 6+
Note: I would recommend making fish tacos  later in the week and using this as a garnish instead of guacamole.  It would taste great with mahi mahi!

Ingredients
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 2 Naval oranges (a little more than 1/2 cup)
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
2 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 jalapeno
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp. agave syrup
1/2 tsp. salt

Directions
1. Mix all ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
2. Set aside.  If preparing in advance, chill in refrigerator.  Take out 30 minutes before serving so the garnish can reach room temperature consistency.
3. Drizzle on crab cakes or on side of plate before serving.  Try with fish tacos!

Spicy-Sweet Fried Corn

Spicy-Sweet Fried Corn
Adapted from Texana’s Kitchen
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 tbsp. butter, divided
4 ears fresh corn, cut from the cobs
1 jalapeno, finely diced
2 green onions, sliced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
3 tsp. sugar

Directions
1. Heat 1 tbsp. butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
2. Add corn, jalapeno, green onions, salt & pepper.
3. Saute for about 10 minutes.  If corn begins to burn, add an additional tbsp. of butter.
4. Add sugar and stir well.  Continue to cook until the corn begins to caramelize (about two minutes).
5.  Reduce heat to simmer and keep warm until ready to serve.  Note: I would consider adding diced red peppers and/or tomatoes to this dish next time around.

Feta Watermelon Salad

Feta Watermelon Tomato Salad
Serves 1

Ingredients
About 10 watermelon cubes or balls
About 10 cherry tomatoes or 1/2 large tomato, roughly chopped
Feta cheese, crumbled
Fresh basil, chopped
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Directions
1. Combine watermelon and tomato in individual serving bowls.
2. Immediately before serving, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.  Then top with crumbled feta.
3. Serve immediately.

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars

3 May

Chocolate caramel oatmeal bars are one of my favorite desserts to make for a party or to bring when visiting friends.  They are very easy to make and are super rich, gooey and decadent.  The best part is, because they contain oatmeal, you can claim they are healthy! 🙂  You can find my recipe below.  Be careful with this dessert – they are so addictive that my friend Marc who runs a fitness company and has the best diet and self-restraint on the planet can’t even resist them!

Chocolate Caramel Oatmeal Bars

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup quick cooking oatmeal
2 cups milk chocolate candies with soft caramel centers*
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

* I prefer to go the decadent route and use Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate & Caramel Squares cut into quarters, but mini Rolos or Rolos cut in half also work.  If you are going to use full size Rolos or Ghiradelli squares, refrigerate the candy before trying to cut each piece.  This way will be significantly less messy.

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a 9″x13″ banking pan with parchment paper.
2. In a small size bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
3. In a medium size bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together butter, brown sugar and vanilla until creamy.
4.  Add flour mixture to medium size bowl.  When mixed, add oatmeal and mix until incorporated.
5. Using floured hands, press about 2/3 of the mixture evenly into the baking pan.  Bake until deep golden brown around edges, about 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, add 1/2 the chocolate-caramel candies to the bowl with the remainder of the oatmeal mixture.  Mix well with floured hands.
7. When the bottom layer is finished, remove from oven.  Evenly drizzle condensed milk over hot base.  Sprinkle chocolate chips and remaining chocolate-caramel candies over condensed milk.  Finally, add oatmeal mixture containing the chocolate-caramel over this.  Note: This top layer will not fully cover the pan.
8. Bake until topping is deep golden brown and edges are bubbling, about 25-27 minutes.
9. Cool in a pan on a wire rack.  When cooled, cut into small bars.
10. Serve warm with ice cream or alone at room temperature.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.