Weekend Update: Labor… er… Memorial Day!

Whoa, summer! Slow your roll! I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day and I’m just now getting around to posting about Memorial Day. Dre + I aren’t up to much this holiday weekend so I’m happy to throwback to one of the best BBQs I attended all summer – Jenny C’s White Trash BBQ! I was sort of in “introvert mode” that day so I just laid back, shot some photos, and enjoyed the delicious food into the suburban Jersey night. Of course, I showed up with some solid BBQ staples and was thrilled they were such crowd pleasers. How can you go wrong with deviled eggs and rice krispie treats? You can’t… and I did them oh-so-right!

Chipotle Deviled Eggs FTW

Now let’s take a hot minute to talk about my rice krispie treats. I discovered a super simple way to make them Snap, Krackle, and mother-effing POP like no other rice krispie treat before it. Melt some butter in a sauce pan, melt it some more w. a few swirls of the pan, melt it until it starts to brown but careful enough that it doesn’t burn… and proceed with your usual back-of-the-cereal-box recipe. Brown butter instills a distinct nuttiness that no one can deny. Extra marshmallows are a no brainer, as well, and a sprinkle of sea salt to finish them like a salted caramel doesn’t hurt either. Steal my secrets. Do it. Everyone will love you!

Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats 

See the rest of my Memorial Day photos on my Flickr photostream….
including Gilly Jo’s Grilled Cinnamon Pineapple and the 100ft Slip + Slide!

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Weekend Update: Spring Patio Brunch

The last few weeks were a whirlwind as I finished up my last few weeks at my job. I was faced with Sunday as my only day off and was gonna make the best of my 50% of a weekend. Sunday morn, Tom popped over for brunch with champagne in hand. I was stoked to host him & Dre on my cleaned up patio. It was a perfect sunny day over orange raspberry-lemonade mimosas, buttery blueberry pancakes, bacon, & sriracha scrambled eggs with my favorite guys!

Buttery Blueberry Pancakes

L'eggo Tom's pancake!

Dre - picture of confidence in his Sunday whites

My Moufullobacon

Spring Patio Brunch

To Taste: Grandma’s Chicken Divan

I grew up with the luck of enjoying my Grandma’s home-cooked dinners every night. My favorite of her dishes was the Chicken Divan – a casserole of broccoli, pulled chicken, & a cheesy sauce. If she wasn’t making it fresh for dinner, she was always sure to have portions frozen to indulge my divan requests. Not too long ago, I finally convinced her to share her recipe.

Grandma's Chicken Divan

We had a serious surplus of broccoli in the fridge so I had to get creative with ways to get rid of it. A giant casserole of my Grandma’s Chicken Divan seemed perfect. The first direction on the recipe was to blanch broccoli and layer it in a greased casserole.

Broccoli Base

I thawed half a chicken worth of white & dark meal STILL hanging out from my Rustic Roasted Chicken dinner. I can’t believe how many Leftover Lightning! meals came out of it!. I pulled it & layered it on top of the broccoli.

Pulled Chicken layered on the Broccoli Base

I was missing some ingredients from the next step, so I improvised with what my pantry staples could offer. I only had (1) can of Cream of Broccoli & Cheese Soup, so I combined it with mayo, lemon juice, & some water to loosen it up. Grandma’s recipe called for smoked paprika, but all I could dig out was some chili powder. My spice cabinet is really a disaster right now. Once the cheesy mixture was combined, I spread it on top of the pulled chicken & broccoli layers.

Cheesy Soup Blend over Pulled Chicken over the Broccoli Base for Chicken Divan

I melted some butter, combined it with seasoned bread crumbs, & sprinkled it over the whole casserole.

Breadcrumbs over the Cheesy Mixture over Pulled Chicken over the Broccoli Base

And then I realized I missed a step in the recipe. What’s new. But this was an important step. The CHEESE! How could I FORGET THE CHEESE? I quickly shredded mild & sharp cheddar cheeses and had no choice but to layer it on top of the breadcrumbs. It was only a minor mistake, just a good thing that I caught it. The casserole looked & tasted so delicious. I know I did my Grandma’s recipe proud!

Grandma's Chicken Divan

P.S. Follow along with my steps & feel free to recreate, but my Grandma’s actual recipe will remain a secret among family 🙂

To Taste: Baked Toni

I prefer to cook what my dinner guest craves, so I indulged Dre’s request for baked ziti. I was low on spaghetti sauce and had some veggies that needed to be eaten. I blanched broccoli florets, sauteed mushrooms, onions, & garlic, opened a large can of crushed tomatoes, and warmed them together with seasonings in a saucepan.

Fat Rigatoni

While the sauce simmered, I decided on large rigatoni and boiled them until al dente in salted water. I like fat noodles when making baked pasta dishes as they tend to fill with your sauce when tossed. The jumbo macaronis for my Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese worked great! I folded ricotta cheese & shredded mozzarella into the warm sauce, tossed it with the cooked rigatoni, and dumped it into a greased casserole. Once the sliced mozzarella I tiled on top began to brown & bubble, I pulled it from the over and served Dre a big, hot scoop of Baked Toni.

Baked Toni

Baked Toni

  • Crushed Tomatoes – (1) large can
  • Broccoli – (0.5) head, trimmed into small florets & blanched
  • Mushrooms – (1) cup, sliced
  • Garlic – (1) T, minced
  • Onion – (1) medium, sliced thin
  • Dried Basil – (1) T
  • Red Pepper Flakes – (1) tsp
  • S&P – to taste
  • Ricotta – (1.5) cups, part skim
  • Shredded Mozzarella – (1) cup, low moisture – part skim
  • Fresh Mozzarella – (6) oz, sliced (or enough to cover most of the dish)
  • Grated Parmesan – to taste
  • Rigatoni – (1) lb, cooked al dente & tossed w/ olive oil
  • Olive Oil – as needed
  1. Heat about (2) T of Olive Oil in a saute pan. Add garlic & onion and cook until caramelized, about (5) min.
  2. Add mushrooms & saute until browned on both sides, about (3) min per side.
  3. Dump entire contents of the canned crushed tomatoes into a sauce pan. Add cooked mushrooms mixture, blanched broccoli, dried basil, red pepper flakes, and S&P. Stir and bring to a simmer.
  4. While sauce simmers, bring a large stockpot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook rigatoni until al dente, about (10-12) min.
  5. Drain rigatoni and return to stock pot. Add a bit of olive oil & toss to prevent sticking.
  6. Remove sauce from the heat and dump into a large mixing bowl.
  7. Fold in ricotta & shredded mozzarella cheeses unti combine.
  8. Add rigatoni and toss to coat completely.
  9. Pour the rigatoni & sauce mixture into a greased casserole dish.
  10. Tile sliced fresh mozzarella on top.
  11. Bake at 350 degrees for (25) min or until the cheese is browned & the casserole is bubbling.
  12. Let cool for about (3) min and serve with grated parmesan cheese.

VDay Sweet: Lemon Buttermilk Cake – Cream Cheese Icing & Lemon Curd Filling

I ❤ U Lemon Buttermilk Cake

I have a hard time following recipes. I prefer to peruse a few different versions and just go for it. That, obviously, is why I rarely bake. Since Dre made me a delicious breakfast in bed & an impressive dinner, I decided I’d whip up whatever flavor of cake the he wanted. I looked up a recipe for Lemon Cake & came across Martha Stewart’s Fluffy Lemon Buttermilk Cake. I carefully measured each ingredient & set up a mise en place to take a pic of them all…

Lemon Cake Ingredients

… and then I realized I had already ignored the first two instructions. I had mixed ALL the dry ingredient together, including the sugar. Thus, there would be no creaming of the butter & sugar and then no folding in the flour, baking powder, & salt. I couldn’t give up so I figured I’d see how things would turn out if I just went for it. I creamed just the butter in my stand mixer and added in the eggs, vanilla, & lemon zest.  I then folded in the dry mix & buttermilk for a smooth, lemony batter. After about 25 min in the oven, I had successfully baked one 9″ layer of my lemon cake (recipe or not!).

Lemon Cake Layer

While the second layer was baking, I made my first attempt at lemon curd from the Joy of Baking’s recipe. It was really easy and the perfect filling for my cake!

Lemon Curd Filling

While the lemon curd set in the fridge, I worked on a simple Cream Cheese Frosting. I whipped together (1) pkg of cream cheese & (1) stick of butter, both room temp. Once smooth, I added in powdered sugar, scraping the bowl & whipping to a smooth finish in my Cuisinart stand mixer.

Whipped Cream Cheese Frosting

So in the end, persevering after a little mistake turned into a delicious lemon cake. It was moist with a dense crumb cake consistency. The tart lemon curd filling & sweet & creamy frosting blended for a perfect end to our Valentine’s Day!

I ❤ U

Vday Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Saturdays w/ Sarah: Chocolate Stout Cupcakes w/ Brown Butter Cream Cheese Frosting

I hope to make a habit of spending more time in the kitchen with my friend, Sarah. For our first session, we decided to bake something to start getting in the holiday spirit. We poured some vodka cocktails, played some Rummikub, and cracked open a Guinness for a batch of Chocolate Stout Cupcakes. We followed a simple Dave Lieberman recipe on my FrankenBerry.

The Ingredients + The Frankenberry

I measured out each ingredient as Sarah combined them. Nothing better than a batter from scratch!

Mixing Bowl

I like extra large muffin tops on my cupcakes so we filled the cups to the top. None of that 2/3 full business.

Batter cups

Cream Cheese Frosting seemed like a perfect topper to these cupcakes but I knew adding Brown Butter would make them even better. After a few samples, I packed up a plate of the oozy, sweet Chocolate Stout Cupcakes for Sarah to enjoy at home. Til the next Saturday…

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes To-Go

To Taste: Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese

Dre’s main request for Friday’s dinner was Mac & Cheese WITH BACON to accompany my Roasted Tomato, Mushroom, & Smoked Mozz Stuffed Chicken Breasts. On a shopping trip last week, I picked up the most adorable red casserole dish and this was the perfect opportunity to christen it. I needed to refresh myself on Mac & Cheese basics and Alton Brown seemed like my go-to man. I forgot how easily you can turn a basic rue, some milk, onion, & cheese (and bacon, of course) into the most comforting of foods. Mmmm, Mac & Cheese!

Shredded Mozz, Cheddar, Smoked Gouda, & Velveeta

I put Dre in charge of finishing up the Mac & Cheese. He crumbled bacon and tossed it into the macaroni & melty cheese mixture. The jumbo macaroni were perfectly filled up with the bacon & gooey cheesiness. He gets half the credit on this cooking venture for that move!

Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese

No Baked Mac & Cheese is complete without a crunchy crust and why not have it add to the cheesiness! Dre crushed up some Cheez-Its, tossed with melted butter, and sprinkled on top. It added a crunchy texture to the creamiest, yummiest Mac & Cheese I’ve ever tasted, if I do say so myself! And how cute is that casserole dish?!

Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese w/ a Cheez-It crust

Smokey Bacon Mac & Cheese

adapted from Alton Brown’s Macaroni & Cheese Recipe

  • Macaroni – (1) lb, cooked al dente
    • Farfalle, Orchiette, Spirals & Shells all work well, too
  • Butter – (3) T + (2) T
  • Flour – (3) T
  • Milk – (3) cups
  • Whole Grain Mustard – (1) T
  • Paprika – (2) tsp
  • Bay Leaf – (1)
  • White Onion – (1/2) med onion, chopped
  • Shredded Cheeses – (4) cups or more
    • I used (2) cups Mild Cheddar, (2) cups Mozzarella, & (1) cup of Smoked Gouda
  • Velveeta – (8) oz, cubed
  • Smoked Bacon – (4-5) slices, cooked & chopped (optional, I guess…)
  • Cheez-Its – (1.5) cups, crushed
    • Next time, Goldfish!
  1. Cook macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Melt (3) T of butter in a heavy pot on Med and add flour. Stir for about 5 min until it turns a light caramel brown, watching closely.
  4. Add Milk, Mustard, Paprika, Bay Leaf, Onion, & S&P and stir. Bring to a simmer on Med for about 5 min. Remove Bay Leaf.
  5. Immediately add the cheese mixture to the pasta in a large bowl or your stock pot and coat. The bacon crumbles can go in now, too.
  6. Pour mixture into a large, greased baking dish or casserole.
  7. Crush (1.5) cups of Cheez-Its in a sealed plastic baggie and then toss with (2) T melted Butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over Mac & Cheese.
  8. Bake for about 30-40 min until bubbling. Remove and let it sit for (5) min before eating.