The Kitchen Prep

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lemon, Honey & Cinnamon Yogurt Mask | #FWCon Recap

Hi there! I'm finally fully recovered from attending the Food Wine Conference I mentioned a few weeks ago, and that means that 1. My head is swimming, and 2. I have so much to do. Nothing new there.

It was a great weekend, although the conditions going into it were definitely NOT ideal. My late-teether of a son decided to have some real doozies start to break ground, which meant fever, pitifulness and major grumps to deal with. Luckily, my husband tied on his Super Dad cape and came along for the ride, staying with him all weekend in our hotel room and keeping him mostly meltdown-free while I did my blogger thing. {As a side note, The Rosen Shingle Creek is not a terrible place to have to be trapped in a hotel room, should the need arise.}

The view from our room
I'm not going to give you a play-by-play of the entire weekend; that would be impossible since they manage to cram so much information, food and fun into such a short period of time. Here's the highlight reel!

Tell Me Everything You Know!

This year's speakers ran the gamut between renowned chefs {Donatella Arpaia to be exact}, farm owners and vintners, etiquette coaches, Instagram rockstars and hospitality professionals. Every year I think I can't possibly learn something new, but without fail I come to find I'm happily mistaken! The most useful session for me this year was a presentation on creating videos {like those viral ones you see from}, which was given by Denise and Lenny from Chez Us. Not only was I shocked to find out how simple they are to create, but I was also motivated enough to try it out at home right away. I definitely need practice, but not too shabby, right??

I am so thankful for the pros who have acquired a wealth of knowledge and are kind enough to share it with little 'ol me!

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

I'm a pretty social kinda gal. I like meeting new people and enjoy chatting with strangers. But sometimes, things like conferences and large-scale events are kind of intimidating, even for social butterflies.  

In the past, I've attended conferences where I knew a few people, and ones where I didn't know a soul. I can tell you from experience that it makes such a difference to put yourself out there and make friends! Just a friendly "Hello" can open up a whole gateway to conversation, opportunities, and even friendships. Since FWCon isn't a huge conference compared to others, I remembered many of the folks there from the year before, and it was nice to see familiar faces {Shaina, Betsy, Terri, Sondra & so many more!}

I also ran into a blog buddy who I've followed for some time {Katie from Katie's Cucina}, and I felt like we really connected after attending the same conferences over the last few years, having babies that are close in age, collaborating in the past, and, yes, having a few cocktails together! We had so many laughs, and in between talking business, it was nice to feel like I was just hanging out with girlfriends. Katie introduced me to her friend April from Mama Loves Food, and I loved getting to know her and learning about how she does 90 minute {!!!} Facebook Live videos from her kitchen several times a week. {As a side note, April has FIVE small children, so there is NO excuse for me on finding the time to work on my business!} No matter how tempted you might be to keep to yourself or stick with only people you know, I highly suggest putting on your confident pants and getting out there!

Let's Eat {And Drink!}

There's no denying that part of the reason why I love food blogging conferences so much is because of the food. At Food Wine, they go all out and really try to make everything special for their guests. As far as I'm concerned, everything in life should have snack breaks featuring things like a Cabot mac & cheese bar, Duda Farm Fresh Foods produce, and Stoneridge Montmorency Cherries. End of discussion.

The formal lunches and dinners were even more elaborate. From beautiful displays of sushi and small plates made by Rosen's best chefs, to a full-blown Idaho Potato extravaganza to Certified Angus Beef's Denim & Diamonds themed dinner on Saturday night, you could tell that a lot of work was put into making these dining experiences memorable. {As a side note, since I don't eat beef, I got the vegetarian option for Saturday's dinner, and it was lovely!}

We were so fortunate to have CK Mondavi as one of the sponsors this year, so there was no shortage on wine. I even found a few new ones that I really enjoyed!

Work Hard, Play Hard

If you're not into blogging or social media, then this might all sound like a snoozefest to you... but I can assure you that there is as much time set aside for fun as there is for business. Between contests and giveaways, silly photo opps and cocktail receptions, there are good times-a-plenty!

Giant wine glasses, massages, playing with your food & porch-sittin'. Yup, plenty of fun.
Remember last year I played The Price is Right and won all the things? Well, it happened again! {Clearly, I've got some fabulous FWCon mojo!} This year, there was a Chopped-style cooking competition sponsored by Wish Farms called "#Hashed." Several teams competed against one another to create a dish using only the ingredients provided by our sponsors, and wouldn't you know it, my team WON! {Thanks, Terri, for literally taking the heat for our bunch in the kitchen!} We got so many gifts from the sponsors, and a free ride for next year's FWCon! WOOHOO!

#Hashed finished products ready to be judged!
I also won 3rd place in a Florida Dairy Farmers recipe contest with my Pimento Cheese Stuffed Cornbread, so I was gifted a great basket of FL Milk goodies, $100, and reimbursement for my conference ticket. Score!

This Time Around

This year, I applied to become a brand ambassador and was paired with Duda Farm Fresh Foods. {Ambassadors receive a discounted ticket to the conference and provide social media coverage for the brand throughout the conference. I hope you saw the pics & Tweets I posted of their super-fun & tasty displays throughout the weekend!} In years past, I wouldn't have had the confidence to sign up for something like an ambassadorship {because it sounded official and scary}, and would have been worried that I wouldn't do a good job. But I did it, and I'm so happy that I did.

Sunday Brunch sponsored by Duda!  
Though I've attended a lot of conferences, something was different about this one: Me. I think I was at ease and ready to receive the information that was provided so that I can work on taking my blog to the next level. If you know me, you know that's a big step for me. {I'm constantly downplaying, sidestepping, and back burner-ing anything related to the blog. NO MORE!} Some big changes are coming for this space, and I can truly say that making time to attend conferences like FWCon has helped me get to the point where I am now.

So, 6 conferences later, this "ain't my first rodeo" anymore. Even though conferences tend to have many of the same elements {speakers, food, sponsors, networking, etc., etc.}, I always come away from each one with a fresh perspective and a unique vibe.

I left this year's FWCon feeling, above all, grateful. Grateful that I've finally reached a point in this wide world of blogging where I have made friends that I look forward to seeing. Grateful that I get to do this crazy thing that actually earns money to help support my family. Grateful that I have overcome some {not all!} of the fears and doubts that I had when I turned this blog into a business. Grateful that other brands and businesses are FINALLY starting to see the value of what we do, and that our efforts often translate to actions that in essence make products and advertising better for you as a consumer.

Food bloggers, I highly recommend this conference, especially if it's your first! I plan on returning for their big 5 year celebration in 2017!

Whew! That was longer than I thought it would be... I think I need some R&R, but maybe I'll just settle for some DIY spa time. The yogurt mask we made on Friday night with Florida Dairy Farmers is perfect for an at-home beauty break. You should try it, too!

Lemon, Honey & Cinnamon Yogurt Mask

1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon
1 tablespoon honey
Dash of cinnamon

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until well incorporated.

2. Spoon into a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.

3. Use immediately by slathering on face, then wiping it off with a warm wash cloth after 15 minutes. Store the remainder of the mask in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

*Note: I actually ate this mixture with fresh berries, and it was delicious! May sound strange, but it's good for your outsides and insides! ;)

Disclosure: Though I was given a discounted ticket for my participation as a brand ambassador, the opinions shared here are all my own. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Host a CrafTEA Afternoon! | Lipton Tea

The idea of women gathering for tea and fellowship is nothing new; ladies have been enjoying each other's company over tea since the days of iron kettles and quilting bees! In today's modern world, "tea time" doesn't have to mean porcelain teacups and pinkies up, just like crafting goes far beyond crochet and needlepoint.

I recently hosted a girls' get together where I gave the "tea party" concept an updated spin, and invited guests to get "crafTEA" while enjoying Lipton's new line of refreshingly bold herbal varieties. {And some snacks, of course!}

With spring in full swing and the temps rising daily, Lipton's fruity flavors like Lemon Ginger, Peach Mango, Berry Hibiscus and Apple Cinnamon make amazing iced beverage options for parties. I didn't want to make my guests decide between the mouthwatering varieties, so I brewed all four flavors and created an Iced Tea Bar!

In sticking with Lipton's unique medleys, I crafted a menu featuring similar flavor notes:


Lipton Tea Bar
featuring  Lemon Ginger, Peach Mango, Berry Hibiscus and Apple Cinnamon

Carrot-Ginger Hummus 
with Pita Chips

Sausage & Apple Spirals

Grilled Peach & Prosciutto Flatbread

Asparagus Flatbread

Lemon Mousse Cups with Gingersnap Crusts

Since I had several guests attending, I created tea concentrates by brewing the tea extra-strong {double the amount of tea bags per cup of water}, and setting out a large beverage dispenser filled with water so that guests could adjust the strength of their iced tea to their liking. This is a great way to make tea for a crowd so that you don't have to worry about having gallons of it on hand -- just remind guests to dilute their tea!

Small bowls of apples, lemons, berries and peaches not only gave a hint about the flavor of the tea, but also served as a nice garnish for each glass. I also froze large ice cubes using a special tray a few days before and filled each one with a slice of fruit for a festive look. 

To give this party a no-stress, casual vibe {and give myself a break!}, I opted for cute paper plates, plastic flatwear and paper napkins so that cleanup would be a breeze. I wanted to expend my energy on crafting, not on washing dishes! Colorful wrapping paper served as table runners, adding extra decor to the table for just pennies.

I set up a cozy work station on my coffee table {my favorite place to craft when my toddler and dog aren't trying to wreak havoc on whatever I'm making}, marking a place setting for each guest with a small basket of everything they would need for our craft project: Tile coasters. To keep the work space mess-free, I taped down a large sheet of kraft paper and added a flourish with the same wrapping paper I used on the buffet table.

Each basket contained 4 tiles {right from the home improvement store}, a pair of scissors, a small bottle of decoupage glue/sealer, a sheet of small felt pads, a wide paint brush and, of course, extra Lipton tea bags wrapped up for them to take home as a party favor! In the center of the table, I set out a variety of sheets of decorative scrapbook paper that would be used as the design on the coasters.

I've hosted other craft parties before and I have to tell you, having individual supply baskets for each guest is the way to go!There was no waiting on scissors or pausing while someone else used the glue, keeping the creativity flowing. Plus, the baskets were SO cute and very inexpensive since most of the items came from the dollar store. An all around win!

The girls absolutely loved getting to choose their tea flavors {several went back to try the others once they got a taste!} and add fruit or a splash of somethin' somethin' to their iced tea for a total custom tea-drinking experience. And the snacks? Finger foods made the perfect accompaniment for cold iced tea and a laid back atmosphere.

Anyone else see some bubbles in that iced tea?? ;)

We may have not been able to use our coasters right away since they had to dry completely, but I just know each guest will pull them out proudly next time they need a place to set an ice cold glass of Lipton this summer!

To make tile coasters: 1. Cut decorative paper to fit the tile. 2. Coat the tile with a thick coat of decoupage glue.
3. Carefully stick the paper to the tile, smoothing to get any air bubbles out. 4. Apply a thick coat of decoupage glue to seal. Allow to dry competely. 5. Stick anti-scuff pads on the bottom of the tile in all 4 corners. DONE!

Want to host your own Lipton Iced Tea Party? Here's a coupon for $0.75 off  any one Lipton Black, Green or Herbal 20 count tea! Cheers to that! 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Fiesta Zucchini Bites

I've got no time for chit-chat today {unless you're gonna tell me you just made me a fresh margarita, then we can talk}, but I wanted to make sure to squeeze in some festive "Cinco" action for you. So let's get right to it: On days like today your mind might say,"Vegetables." while your stomach yells, "CHIPS & GUAC!" But there's no need to choose one over the other when you make these Fiesta Zucchini Bites!

My amigos at Que Pasa Foods hooked me up with a giant box-o-goodness last week, and I've now probably eaten my weight in organic, stone-ground, whole grain tortilla chips.  But you know how I hate to waste food, even when we're talking crumbs {which unfortunately there were a lot of thanks to less-than-gentle handling during shipping, I'm sure!}. So...

Fiesta Zucchini Bites it is!

These veggie bites are such a fun way to use up those bits at the end of a bag, and a very good excuse to celebrate Cinco-style any night of the week. Crushed blue, red, and yellow tortilla chips create a crunch exterior for tender zucchini. Just a bit of hot sauce and Mexican-style seasoning adds zesty flair to these baked bites.

Serve with a side of salsa or creamy avocado dip for a snack or side that'll make you want to bust out your sombrero!

Fiesta Zucchini Bites

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon your favorite hot sauce
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon Mexican seasoning blend or taco seasoning {I used salt-free since the tortillas are salted}
1 1/2 cups crushed tortilla chips, such as Que Pasa Tortilla Chips
2 large zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch thick rounds

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.

2. Set up your dredging station: Place flour in one bowl. Whisk eggs and hot sauce together in a second bowl. Toss seasoning mixed with crushed tortilla chips in a third bowl.

3. Toss zucchini rounds into flour to coat, then place in bowl with egg mixture and turn to cover each piece in egg completely. Finally, place in bowl with tortilla chips and seasoning and toss until coated, pressing lightly to adhere the chips to the wet zucchini pieces.

4. Remove carefully {I used a fork} and place on lined baking sheet, leaving about a 1/2 inch between each piece.

5. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the zucchini is fork-tender and the outside is crisp.

Serve with salsa, guacamole or your favorite dip.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Strawberry-Hazelnut Jam Bars

I am constantly juggling the daily tasks of growing a business and staying home with my growing boy. I love both, but it takes a lot of time, energy and patience to dedicate time to each every single day. I spend Cole's nap times working and his awake times playing, and I'm always looking for fun yet educational activities to do with my little guy. So, the ideal scenario is when my two worlds collide and I can gather inspiration for the blog while keeping Cole entertained.

It's rare to find opportunities that mesh well with both "jobs" {Cole isn't into extended dining experiences just yet!}, but every once in a while I discover events and adventures that lend themselves to the two perfectly.

A few weeks ago, I asked a girlfriend if she and her son would want to join us on a trip out to Swank Specialty Produce to try our hand at strawberry picking before the season came to a close. They were as excited about the prospect of fresh picked berries as we were, so we made a plan to meet bright and early "on the farm."

Except, if you know me, you know that my sense of direction is nothing to be envied. I rely HEAVILY on Google Maps, and I don't know what I did before GPS tracking came along. {Yes I do. I got lost a lot.} Armed with my phone and a robotic-sounding co-pilot leading the way, I figured I had nothing to worry about as the overview seemed pretty clear cut.

Down the back roads of Loxahatchee we drove, Cole and I, filled with enthusiasm and anticipation. We took our lefts and rights on streets like "Avocado" and "Persimmon", and it seemed to me we were on the right track to pick some produce.

When we got to the dirt roads with unclear signage, I let my phone do the navigating and listened carefully to her orders as she told me to veer right into an unmarked entrance. I drove in and found myself at what seemed more like an RV camping spot than a farm of any kind, so I pulled over to try to get my bearings and figure out where the GPS had lead me.

As I scanned the area from the driver's seat, I finally caught a glimpse of a cheerful looking sign that cleared up any confusion as to what I had wandered into: A Naturist Resort.

Since my mind was still fixated on strawberries, the word "naturist" didn't ring a bell until I noticed a smaller, more cautionary-looking sign stating that there was nudity on the property. Ah, yes... it all came together for me then. Naturist = Nudist. My trusted Google navigator had lead me to a NUDIST COLONY. My suspicions were confirmed seconds later, when I spied a nice looking older gentleman retrieving his mail wearing nothing but a t-shirt and a smile.

Now, I'm no prude, but I sat there stunned for a second before I burst into laughter. Cole, all the while, was observing his mother's manic behavior from the carseat, and probably wondering what in the world got into me. This will be a story to share in the future, for sure.

Anyway, we did eventually find our way to Swank which was just one dirt road entrance away, and I'm happy to report that strawberry picking was a success with both boys. {And that everyone at Swank was fully clothed.}
Gone pickin'. {Always attempting that perfect Instagram shot.}
Photos of me & the boys courtesy of Erica Dunhill.
We came home with a heaping pint of hand-picked strawberries, but we also found out that they sell jam and other produce as well. Though I didn't pick any up this time around, I hope to on our next visit. In the meantime, I was inspired to use up a jar of jam from Parksdale Farms that I've had for a while in these ridiculously easy Strawberry-Hazelnut Jam Bars.

I love that the base and the crumble topping for these bars are made from the same mixture, meaning less work. A layer of sweet and gooey jam {really, any flavor will do} is sandwiched in the center of the bars, covered with a crisp oatmeal and hazelnut topping and then drizzled with chocolate hazelnut spread.

The result is truly irresistible.... and that's the naked truth!

Strawberry-Hazelnut Jam Bars
Adapted from Food Network
Makes about 16 squares

1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 {12 tablespoons} sticks butter, melted
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups strawberry jam or preserves
2 tablespoons chocolate hazelnut spread

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 inch pan with foil, overlapping on all sides. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine flour, 3/4 cup rolled oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt and mix to combine. Pour melted butter into dry mixture in a thin stream, mixing it into the dry ingredients until it has the look of wet sand.

3. Scoop out about half of the mixture and place it in the prepared baking pan. Press down with your fingers to pack it down into a sturdy base.

4. To the remaining mixture, add the rest of the oats and the hazelnuts, mixing to combine. Set aside.

5. Spread strawberry jam over the bottom layer in the pan, making sure to cover entirely.

6. Grab the remaining mixture by the handful, squishing it together to create a pebbly crumble and sprinkle it over the top of the jam. Cover completely.

7. Bake for about 40 minutes until the topping is lightly browned and the jam is bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.

8. Place the chocolate hazelnut spread into a zip-top bag and snip one corner. Drizzle the crumble top with the spread. {You can also warm it up a bit to loosen it and just drizzle with a spoon for a more rustic look.} Cut into bars and enjoy!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Blueberry & Brie Salad with Puff Pastry Croutons | Food Wine Conference 2016 #FWCon

If you've seen the last few posts I've published, you might be wondering why the heck I'm so excited about attending the Food Wine Conference next month in Orlando. {You might also be wondering if I ever eat anything other than cheese, bacon and dessert. I do, I promise.}

Well, let's start with the two main reasons: FOOD. WINE.

All kidding aside, this will be my second year attending this fantastic conference, but my first time going as a brand ambassador {which basically means that I'll be helping one of our amazing sponsors promote their brand while I'm mingling, learning, sipping and noshing}. Finding out about the conference last year came at the perfect time for me. I was learning to juggle the work-from-home blogging thing with the mama-to-a-6-month-old thing, and quite frankly, I was feeling creatively depleted. {And sleep deprived. Let's not forget that.}

FWCon Brand Ambassador

At the very last minute {and at the prodding from my friends Shaina & Sloane}, I decided that maybe a weekend at this conference would reinvigorate me and help me regain my "spark." And it did! 

It's hard not to get excited about what you do when you're surrounded by a ballroom-full of talented and successful people who are willing to share their secrets with you. Also, the eatin' at these things isn't too bad either! {wink, wink!}

Last year's Certified Angus Beef dinner.
I always love food blogging conferences because it's a great place to connect with others who share my passion for food and writing, and it's also nice to meet face to face with the representatives from the brands that sponsor these events. So much of what we do is shared via social media, email and other technology that it's refreshing to be able to look your colleagues in the eye and relate on a human level. It's all about building relationships.

One of the reasons I enjoy FWCon in particular is because I feel like Isabel herself {the founder & creator of the Sunday Supper Movement & FWCon} builds the experience based on her knowledge as a successful food blogger and business person. Every last detail -- from the dining experiences to the selected speakers -- make you feel like she sat down and said, "What would make a conference fun and exciting for me? What would I want to learn?" And it's precisely that personal touch that makes FWCon feel warm, friendly and comfortable for both seasoned bloggers and newbies alike.

All smiles while learning with my blogging buddies! Photo credit: Ashley Hamon Photography
A whole lot of learning takes place at these things with tips coming from the pros themselves, with sessions covering all of the skills and strategies that are needed to stay relevant in today's busy, ever-changing world of digital media. But all that serious information is tempered with tons of lighthearted fun, too! Let's not forget all the snack breaks and all-out feasting that take place throughout the whole weekend. This thing is made for "foodies" after all!

It's not all business at FWCon! Photo credit: Ashley Hamon Photography
Whether you're new to the food blogging world and are looking for an opportunity to sharpen your skills or a long time blogger who is seeking to connect with colleagues, this conference is for you! Good news... you can still join in the fun by purchasing tickets today. {Use code THEKITCHENPREP and receive $50 off your ticket.}

I can't wait to dig into this year's Food Wine Conference... hope to see you there!

Photo credit: Ashley Hamon Photography
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

As I mentioned a few times, the Food Wine Conference is never short on, well... food! Last year, I found myself seeking some greens amidst the dessert tables, cocktails and poutine bar. So, in preparation for all the feasting, I'm gearing up for this year's conference with a salad! 

This Blueberry & Brie Salad with Puff Pastry Croutons is a riff on one of my favorite rich, creamy appetizers: Brie en Croute. You know what I'm talking about -- a wheel of brie wrapped in puff pastry and baked until it's ooey & gooey in the center. 

How do you turn a leafy salad into a mouth-watering version of this decadent appetizer? With puff pastry croutons, of course! I don't know why I never thought to turn puff pastry into croutons before... they're so buttery and flaky, and surprisingly simple to make with a package of store bought puff pastry dough. Genius.

Sometimes Brie en Croute is served with a layer of jam or a fruity compote topping to add an element of sweetness to savory dish. In this salad, fresh blueberries give a pop of freshness to the otherwise savory ingredients. And yes, it's nice to know that you're balancing out the little bit of "naughty" in this salad with a handful of antioxidant-rich blueberries

Wish Farms, a 3rd generation family-owned and operated produce company, will be among this year's conference sponsors, and they're hosting a recipe contest looking for delicious ways to use blueberries in salad form. I'd say this salad is my new favorite way to add blueberries to the mix! 

Give it a try the next time you're looking for a way to jazz up your salad game!

Disclosure: I received my FWCon ticket at a discounted price in exchange for my participation as a brand ambassador. Using my discount code in purchasing your ticket will also earn me a commission. 

Blueberry & Brie Salad with Puff Pastry Croutons

1 bag of your favorite salad mix
1 pint Wish Farms blueberries
About 4 ounces brie cheese, cut into small cubes
1/2 cup candied pecans
Puff Pastry Croutons {see directions below}
Lemon, Honey & Thyme Vinaigrette {see recipe below}

Make Puff Pastry Croutons:
1/3 sheet of puff pastry from a store bought package
Favorite seasoning {I used a Garlic & Herbs seasoning grinder and salt}

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with a piece of parchment paper.

2. Unfold 1 sheet of slightly thawed puff pastry from the package, placing on parchment. Cut one third of the sheet, and save the rest for another use. {Or you could use the whole thing, but it would make a LOT of croutons!}

3. Brush the puff pastry with a bit of water to moisten slightly, then sprinkle with desired seasonings.

4. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut the puff pastry into tiny squares -- you can make them as big or small as you'd like, but remember that they will puff up significantly when they bake.

5. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until they're golden brown and puffed. Set aside until ready to use.

Make Vinaigrette:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon thyme

1. Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use.

Assemble Salad:

1. In a large salad bowl, toss salad mix with vinaigrette to taste until lightly dressed. 

2. Add blueberries, brie and pecans and toss to combine.

3. Sprinkle puff pastry croutons over top. 

Makes a great accompaniment to a dinner entree or a more substantial lunch served with a grilled chicken breast. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Pimento Cheese Stuffed Cornbread

That whole "twist on a Southern classic" thing I mentioned last week got my wheels turning, and all I've been able to think about are amped up Southern recipes. Plus, my husband and I are planning an anniversary trip to Charleston in June and I've been falling asleep with visions of shrimp & grits dancing in my head. {Much better than sugarplums, in case you were wondering.}

It's only natural that this week my recipe development has gone "South", inspired by some of the most mouthwatering dishes you can find this side of the Mississippi.

The folks who have planned and sponsored this year's Food Wine Conference in Orlando have really asked us to step it up with creativity for their recipe contests, and I'm determined to try my best to deliver! As I mentioned, I already entered the #BreakTheRouxles contest with my Bacon Lattice-Top Peach Pie a la Mode with Bourbon Sweet Tea Syrup. No sooner had I submitted my recipe, another opportunity popped up, this time from Florida Dairy Farmers, a platinum sponsor for FWCON 2016.

Since I love a good recipe challenge, I decided to roll up my sleeves and see what kinds of dairy-filled delights I could come up with for this entry.

My initial thoughts were along the lines of ice cream, pudding and mac & cheese, but they all seemed too obvious and not quite challenging enough for what I had in mind. And then, like all great ideas, I imagined combining two ridiculously delicious foods into one mind-boggling recipe...

... and Pimento Cheese Stuffed Cornbread was born. {And the angels sang a hymn and hit the treadmills in preparation.}

I mixed it all up, slapped it in a pan and prayed for the best. {Literally because I should have used a slightly bigger pan and I was worried the entire time that it would overflow all over my oven. It didn't.} I'm happy to report that my idea worked out. Oh so well.

Tender cornbread employs the element of surprise by harboring a savory Pimento Cheese spread filling in its center. Though I was a little annoyed at first that some of the cheese oozed from the sides as it baked up, the crisp burnt cheese edges {you know, like the ones you fight over on a casserole dish of mac & cheese} turned out to be one of my favorite parts. Truth be told, my original plan was to bake this up as corn muffins with the filling in the center of each, but on a time crunch, I took the easy route and made it a one-pan recipe. And I'm not one bit sorry.

Straightforward dairy-filled delightfulness. Oven. Mouth. Belly. {Thighs.} Done.

Serve it as a side to chili, soup, or whatever your little heart desires. It's a winner for sure.

Pimento Cheese Stuffed Cornbread
Yields 16 squares 

For Pimento Cheese:
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 cup mayo
1 tablespoon grated white onion
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup diced pimentos
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside until ready to use {or refrigerate if not using right away}.

For Cornbread:
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk {I used whole, but you can use whatever you'd like}
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 egg, beaten
1 {8 tablespoons} stick melted butter

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 inch pan with parchment or foil and grease the sides. {Alternatively, you can use a 9 inch seasoned cast iron skillet.}

2. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Whisk to combine.

3. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the wet ingredients. Stir to combine until everything is well-mixed and fully incorporated, but try not to overwork the batter.

4. Ladle half of the batter into the prepared pan or skillet. Gently add the Pimento Cheese mixture to the top of the first layer, spreading it carefully to cover the batter evenly.

5. Scoop the remaining batter on top of the Pimento Cheese mixture and spread with an offset spatula making sure to cover the cheese layer completely.

6. Bake for about 40-45 minutes until the top begins to brown* and a skewer inserted into the cornbread comes out mostly clean with just a few moist crumbs.

7. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before trying to remove from pan. Once removed, cut into squares {it's pretty rich, so small squares will do!} and serve warm.

*If your top browns too quickly, lightly tent a piece of foil on top as it bakes through to protect the top from burning.