Every year I host an after-Christmas party for my girlfriends, and I use it as a time to experiment with all sorts of new appetizers. When creating the menu, I look for a mixture of hot & cold, easy & labor intensive, as well as a good mix of veggies, meats, carbs, and vegetarian dishes. Since Président Cheese sent me that package of brie a while back, I knew I wanted to do something with it. Initially I was planning to make the prosciutto wrapped brie with figs, but decided to use the prosciutto in green bean bundles instead.

Before I even had a chance to search for some brie inspiration, The Pioneer Woman updated her blog with a recap of her favorite appetizer posts from the past year, and at the top of the list were these stuffed mushrooms.

These were delicious, and so, so simple. And they’re best served at room temp, so I didn’t have to worry about keeping them warm on the table. Perfect.

Print

Brie Stuffed Mushrooms

Slightly adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

Ingredients:

1 large pack of White Button Mushrooms, washed and stems removed
1/2 stick of butter
4 cloves Garlic, Minced
¼ cup Flat leaf Parsley, Chopped
5 whole Green Onions, Sliced (up to middle of dark green part)
1 wedge of Brie Cheese

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add mushroom caps and toss to coat in butter. Sprinkle lightly with salt and cook for 1 minute. Remove mushrooms from pan and place upside down in a baking dish.

In the same saucepan (without cleaning it) throw in garlic, parsley, and green onions. Sprinkle with salt. Stir around, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Cut rind off of brie wedge, then cut pieces of brie to fit each mushroom cap. Place inside, lightly pressing to anchor each piece of brie. Top mushrooms with parsley/garlic mixture.

Place into the oven for 15 minutes, or until brie is melted.


Photo Credit: Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman Cooks


The past few days I’ve counted down my best in food for 2009, but no New Year’s Eve would be complete without libations, so I thought I would share my Top 5 list when it comes to imbibing as well:

#5 Food & Wine Cocktails ’09

Even though we go out on the town quite often, it’s fun to sometimes experiment at our home bar. Some of the country’s top bartenders contributed their recipes to this little cocktail “cookbook”, one of my best purchases of the year. Maybe you remember the Cajun Lemonade I made this summer that was such a hit? Yep, it came from this book.

You should definitely consider buying a copy and playing around with some of the drinks. It’s a steal on Amazon – just a little over $3!


#4 Pimm’s Cup

We probably made more of these than any other concoction at home- it was our unofficial drink of the summer. In a few short months, we went through a few cases (yes, cases!) of Pimm’s No. 1, which we purchase at our favorite liquor/wine store: The Wine Chap. Click here for the recipe so you can share in our love.

#3 Fido Wine Class

Can you tell that I enjoyed this class? It made my Top 10 Food list for 2009 and now, the Top 5 Drink. I’ll alert you when it’s being offered again so you can see for yourself what all the fuss is about!

#2 Nashville Lifestyles’ Bartender Bash

Back in August I had the pleasure of judging Nashville Lifestyles’ 4th annual Bartender Bash. In previous years, my participation level was only that of an attendee, so I would choose a few of the cocktails to sip as I spent most of the evening socializing. This time all my focus was on tasting 24 creative cocktails since I was at the judges table! No doubt that Nashville has some talented mixologists, and they’re competing at this bash.

This is, in my opinion, the best bang for your buck when it comes to drinking events in Music City. Highly, highly recommend you attend the 5th annual in 2010!

#1 The Patterson House

It should come as no surprise to you that The Patterson House is at the top of my list for Drinks of 2009. The menu is so well thought out- seasonal, fresh, innovative, creative…oh, just read for yourself a few of my thoughts on it here, here, or here.

~Everything you need to Eat, Drink & Be Merry in 2010~

Happy New Year!

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for (humor me)- my picks for Top 3 meals of 2009!


#3: Perennial, Chicago

This meal snuck up on me. I didn’t have high expectations going in because during my research for our trip to Chicago, I wasn’t able to find too many reviews. From the ridiculously delicious Squash Risotto appetizer to the Savoy Cabbage and Foie Gras Crepe side dish, everything just worked. Perfectly. Unexpected delights coming at me from all directions. Click here for all the details.


I visit Chicago often and normally like to try out new restaurants each time, but the next time I go, I’ll be doing a repeat visit to Perennial.


#2: Tayst Chef’s Table,
Nashville


For our first anniversary in October, Ravi and I wanted to do something really special, so when Chef Jeremy Barlow of tayst mentioned his chef’s table, I jumped on the opportunity. Take a look back at the 12 course extravaganza by clicking here.

All anniversaries in the years to come now have a near impossible act to follow. Perhaps I’ll just leave my anniversary in Jeremy’s hands every year…..

#1: Tom Tuesday, NYC

Really, was there any doubt in your mind that this would be my top pick for 2009? The most incredible, fantastic, awe-inspiring, breathtaking meal of my life. It literally rendered my friends and I speechless– and that says A LOT. Take a look back at the dinner by clicking here.

Tom Colicchio is a dream boat.

So there you are- my top picks for 2009. Now it’s your turn— Are there places you think I should put on my “must try” list for 2010? Tell me what meals you had this year that left you smiling, speechless, or wanting more!

Welcome back to the countdown of my Top 10 Meals of 2009. (Before reading today’s blog entry, first make sure that you catch yesterday’s if you didn’t already.)

We’re starting off today’s list not with a fancy restaurant or a comforting meal at home, but a cooking class!

#6: Salud: Cooking Class with Chef Deb Paquette, Nashville

Back in May I was lucky enough to get a last second spot in a fully booked class with one of my chef heroes, Deb Paquette of Zola. Watching her work her magic from just a few feet away was one of the highlights of my year, and ever the more appreciated now.

You see, recently Deb & her husband Ernie delivered the sad, sad news that they are closing my beloved Zola and moving to the Caribbean. This announcement left me even more thankful that I had the opportunity to learn a bit from the master before she leaves us. Take a look here at all of the creative dishes she prepared during the cooking class at Whole Foods and you’ll understand why I’ll miss her so.

#5: 112 Eatery, Minneapolis

What I love most about Minneapolis? Well, that would be my friend Steph, but it’s a really tight race with this restaurant. Read all my reasons why here.


#4: Spotted Pig
, NYC

My life-altering first encounter with Gnudi was at The Spotted Pig in New York this summer. I’m not exaggerating. This dish transported me to another realm. Read my glowing review here and get the recipe to try for yourself at home. I haven’t yet been brave enough to attempt it for fear of screwing it up and ruining the beautiful memory I still have of the dish. Instead I would rather just hop on a plane to New York for another visit!

Come back tomorrow to see who made the Top 3 of 2009!

It’s been an incredible year, filled with some amazing food, so as we close out 2009, I thought it would be fun to count down my personal favorites for the year. Since I didn’t start my blog until May and many of you may not have discovered it until just recently, it’s possible you missed some of the best meals I’ve experienced this year.

I’ve gone all the way back through my calendar and narrowed it down to the Top 10. Food was of the utmost importance, but I also took into account the entire experience. Service can make or break a meal, no matter how unbelievable the food is, so those that got top honors excelled in that aspect as well.

Most of these meals I already blogged about, so I’ll link you back to them for a full story. However, a couple you didn’t really hear about at all, so I’ll expand more on them. #10 is one of those.

 

#10: Gramercy Tavern. NYC

When I got back from my New York trip this summer I had every intention of blogging about this meal, but never got around to it. And now, when I would love to tell you all about it, I can’t. Why, you ask? Well, just a few weeks ago I lost my little food journal I had been using for the past few months. It had every note from every meal I’ve eaten since May, this one included. Sadly, I don’t remember alot of the details, but I have photos, so I’ll share a few of them with you. What I do remember quite clearly is that the service at Gramercy Tavern was absolutely impeccable. It made our night. I also recall my friend Annika dubbing the rolls that began our meal “little puffballs from heaven”. Hopefully that gives you some indication of the level of the meal- if the rolls are from heaven, can you imagine what all the other courses tasted like??

Here’s a small sampling of what we had:

Fish Croquette

Barley Risotto

Mushroom Lasagna
Amazing!

And the best part of the whole experience? They have a $35 prix-fixe 3 course meal! I was shocked- I mean, c’mon, I’m in NYC at one of the top restaurants, and I get 3 courses for only $35? Craziness. Highly, highly recommend if you’re in the Big Apple.

#9: Fido: Wine 101, Nashville

A coffee shop wine class might seem a bit peculiar, but this was hands down the best wine tasting experience I’ve ever had. And the food? I was blown away. Chef John Stephenson used the freshest seasonal ingredients to prepare 5 or 6 tasting courses for us each night. A few standouts that I didn’t mention in previous writings:

Meatballs with Dates, Blue Cheese, and Local Pork over Organic Zucchini “Spaghetti and Local Oven Dried Juliette Tomato Sauce.

Benton’s Bacon BLT with Heirloom Tomato and Avocado

Fresh Linquine with Lemon Cream, Country Ham, Rainbow Chard, and Roasted Carrots

Mini Chorizo Burgers with Fig Mayo, Fennel Mustard, Gruyere, and Cordito Slaw with Amazing Fries

This class is an unbelievable value for the money. Click here for details on the 6 week course, and here to read more about some of the amazing dishes we had in the first few weeks.

 

#8: Lola, Cleveland

Surely you remember The Meatfest?

#7: Mushroom Risotto

with Pork Tenderloin in

Sun Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

 

Every fabulous meal doesn’t have to come from a well-known chef or restaurant- they can come right out of your own kitchen. I hate to toot my own horn, but this meal truly was one of the best meals of my entire year. I made my favorite gourmet mushroom risotto with pork tenderloin in a sun dried tomato cream sauce for my book club last February, and every single morsel was devoured. Girls had not only second helpings, but thirds! I tell you this not to brag, but to convince you that you MUST make this risotto as well as the Pork Tenderloin. Of course, I first need to share the pork recipe with you. Hold on to your pants- I promise you will have it very, very soon. Just stay tuned!

Come back tomorrow for Meals #6, 5, and 4, and then back again on Wednesday for my Top 3!

 

May your holidays be merry and bright and full of good food! :-)

photo credit: Our Christmas Tree by Tamie Snow


Over the weekend, my kitchen turned into a chocolate factory as I whipped up all kinds of goodies to go in gift bags. And after taste-testing every bit of it, I was kind of sick of eating chocolate. This statement is a tab bit shocking even to myself, because I don’t ever tire of eating chocolate.

In an effort to prevent my gift recipients from going into chocolate overload, I wanted to add something else a little different to their packages. This nut filled recipe seemed like it would be a great addition to the sampler.

Oh boy. Let me tell you, I’ve eaten more than my daily allowance of nuts for 3 days straight. I seriously have to force myself to step away.

These beautiful nut bars are rich, buttery and decadent. To save my friends and family from themselves, I’m only going to include 2 in each package. Because I care. (Not because I want to eat more of them myself. No, that is not it all.)


Print

Rustic Nut Bars

Adapted from Epicurious. Yield: about 3 dozen.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp plus 3/4 cup cold butter, divided
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten

Topping
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, cubed
2 Tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 cup hazelnuts*, toasted
1 cup roasted salted almonds
1 cup salted cashews, toasted
1 cup pistachios, toasted

Directions:

Line a 13-in x 9-in. x 2-in. baking pan with foil; grease the foil with 1 Tbsp butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; cut in remaining butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in egg until blended (mixture will be dry). Press firmly into prepared pan. Bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

In a large heavy saucepan over medium heat, bring the honey, brown sugar and salt to a boil; stir until sugar is dissolved. Boil without stirring for 2 minutes. Add butter and cream. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat; stir in the nuts. Spread over crust.

Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes or until topping is bubbly. Cool completely on a wire rack. Using foil, lift bars out of pan. Discard foil; cut into squares.

Note: Nut bars keep, layered between sheets of wax paper or parchment, in an airtight container at room temperature 1 week.

*I couldn't find hazelnuts at the store on the day I was shopping, so I just used peanuts since I had some in the house. You could also sub macadamia nuts or pecans for an even richer taste.

Hazelnuts on Foodista

No visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. Sugar plums? Really? Nah, I much prefer chocolate. Want to know what holiday treat I’m most looking forward to this week? Take a gander to the right.

For those that have been following this blog for a while, you probably remember the wedding desserts I featured back in October. Well, the recipe for my mom’s chocolate peanut butter balls was included then, but I wanted to share again for fear that you might have overlooked. And that would be a shame. A crying shame I tell ya.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Balls

2 sticks butter
1 lb peanut butter
1 1/2 lbs powdered sugar
1 large bag chocolate chips
1 bar paraffin

Melt butter and add peanut butter and powdered sugar. Make into 1-inch balls. Melt 1 bar paraffin and 1 large bag chocolate chips over low heat, stirring to prevent sticking. With toothpicks in balls, dip into hot chocolate mixture. Place on waxed paper until chocolate hardens.

Another sweet treat that has become a holiday tradition in our family is this fudge. It’s so rich that I can’t eat much, but that’s probably a good thing, right???

White Chocolate Fudge

1- 8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla flavoring
12 oz white chocolate chips or bark
3/4 cup chopped pecans

With an electric mixer in a tall mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, slowly adding in powdered sugar and vanilla. In a separate container, melt white chocolate in microwave. Stir in cream cheese mixture. Pour in pecans and stir. Pour mixture into greased 8×8 baking dish. Once cooled, cut into small squares.

And this year I’m introducing a new goodie into the mix. We’ll see how it’s received by the fam. I know I’ve enjoyed taste testing it, but as you might recall, I’m partial to a little sweet-n-heat….

Spicy Chocolate Bark

1 lb semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped cashews, toasted
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 tsp cayenne pepper

In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt chocolate chips. Stir in the nuts and cayenne. Spread onto a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Break into small pieces. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

What’s your favorite holiday sweet? Do you make it, or does someone else?