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CHILI ORANGE KETTLE CORN & TEQUILA NEW FASHIONEDS

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It’s the end of February/beginning of March. You know what that means? Besides the fact that the weather will be a complete guessing game for the next 30 days? THE OSCARS ARE THIS SUNDAY!!! It’s like the Super Bowl of Awards Season! As usual, I have not seen a single movie. Nope, not even Frozen (though it’s on the list, just like the rest of them). Can I be honest with you? I can’t stay awake during movies. Especially if we’re watching at home. Sure, we could go to the theatre but a) that’s really expensive anymore and b) I feel like the show times never work out well with our schedule. That means watching at home, which is totally fine, but turning the lights out means my eyes close and I’m knocked out on one end of the couch, trying to convince George “No, I’m awake, I’m watching. Yuh-huh. I am.” I’d like to blame my father for this. He’s excellent at falling asleep while watching TV and movies. I inherited this skill from him. So eventually, hopefully, we’ll watch some of these fine films. In the meantime, I’ll still mark up my Oscar ballot (thank you, Kate Spade for this adorable version) and savor every moment of red carpet goodness I can get until next year.

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It’s also an excellent reason to get festive, and we all know how I feel about that! Do you know where I found the recipe for this popcorn? The official Oscars website. Wild, I know. Imagine that, popcorn for a show about movies! How did I ever find it there (#sarcasm, fyi)? I was actually trying to find out if there’s an Oscars cocktail (there is, sorta). Lo and behold, I found a whole slew of party recipes on the Academy’s website. Like this popcorn. Like this delicious popcorn that’s just slightly weird, and makes people cock their heads to the side in consideration of the components, and then delights with its perfect blend of flavors. It’s just unique enough to be different, but totally approachable and tame enough for all kinds of taste buds. Isn’t that what you want in a party food? A crowd-pleaser? Ding ding ding, we have a winner! We’ve actually tweaked it just a little bit to make the flavors even better. You’re welcome.

And of course, we have a drink to accompany this popcorn. This, however, is not an Oscar-sanctioned bev. No, this is straight from our kitchen to yours. Inspired by the chile-orange combo, I thought “Hey, how about doing a classic orange cocktail, but with a twist? Like an Old Fashioned, but with tequila instead of whiskey?” It’s just crazy enough to work. Plus, thanks to the orange zest, I had a naked orange sitting around the kitchen. I mean, I could eat it… or I could make a drink with it. Alcohol wins. It always wins. We’re calling it a “new fashioned” because of the newfangled tequila twist.

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 : : : CHILE ORANGE KETTLE CORN : : :
Adapted from Oscars.org
Serves 2-10, depending on the likelihood of people stuffing their faces

• ¾ cup popcorn kernels
• ¼ cup canola oil
• 4 tablespoons sugar
• 1 tablespoon chili powder
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• zest of 1 orange

1. In a large pot or stockpot with lid over medium-high heat, combine the popcorn, oil, sugar, chili powder, and salt. Shake constantly. (Note: The original recipe called for medium heat but I had to use high heat due to my pan’s size and structure. I didn’t feel like standing over my stove for 20 minutes to make popcorn. Use whatever heat level works for you and pay attention to your pot!)

2. When the popcorn begins to pop, lower the heat to the next level down. Continue to shake until the popping begins to slow.

3. Transfer popcorn to a large bowl—you’ll need to toss the popcorn around. Drizzle with the melted butter and orange zest and toss to coat.

4. Grab a handful and stuff your face. 🙂

TeqNewFash_022614_Details: : : FRESH CITRUS TEQUILA NEW FASHIONED : : :
Serves 2

• 4 oz good tequila
• 2 slices of an orange (I used a cara cara orange for this)
• 2 oz fresh orange juice (use the same orange above, just juice the rest)
• 1 oz (2 TBSP) simple syrup
• 4 dashes Angostura bitters
• 2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters or other fancy bitters like Fee Brothers Orange or Grapefruit
• Club soda (about 4 oz)

1. In two cocktail glasses, muddle in each: 1 slice of orange and 1 TBSP simple syrup.

2. In cocktail shaker filled with ice, pour in contents from one cocktail glass. Add 2 oz tequila and 1 oz orange juice; shake shake shake! Shake the cocktail until cold, about 20 good shakes. Strain into cocktail glass filled with ce. Repeat with the other glass and remainder of ingredients. You could also combine everything into one shaker and just divide it among the two glasses in the end. It’s up to you.

3. After cocktails have been shaken and strained back into the glasses, add dashes of bitters and top with club soda. Give it a quick stir, and sip away!

So who will be tuning into the Oscars tomorrow? Who will be watching the red carpet? Lupita Nyong’o has been seriously CRUSHING the fashion scene lately so I can’t wait to see what she wears to the ball. And of course, Jennifer Lawrence. J.Law, what Dior dress will you wear and what crazy thing will you say that makes us fall in love with you all over again? Only one short day until we find out!

 

PIZZA BAKLAVA

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“Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear!


Empire Records, circa 1995

That happens to me a lot. I was in the car driving back from the grocery store the other day trying to figure out what to do about some sort of pizza snack/appetizer/mini-something-or-other. I was thinking about how to get it flaky with thin layers and then BAM! It hit me! Pizza baklava!!! It all happened so fast, I couldn’t think about anything else. I know, I know, you’re probably like “Hold the phone, ML. What are you talking about? Pizza baklava? What does that even mean??” I’ll tell you what it means. It means the delicious ingredients of pizza layered between flaky sheets of buttery phyllo dough, that’s what it means.

A few years ago I invented one of my most brilliant inventions (if I do say so myself), Buckeye Baklava. It’s not your typical baklava. No, instead it’s inspired by the beloved peanut butter and chocolate confectionary delicacy native to the exotic land of Ohio. I’ll divulge full details in a blog post another day, but the point of this little story is that embarking on the Buckeye Baklava adventure opened up a new world for me. Baklava is a vehicle that could take me to new and fascinating places. I was full of ideas! I was inspired! But you know what? I was also tired! Baklava takes awhile, man. It’s not hard but it’s definitely not fast. Especially when you’re making it by yourself. So I just never got around to doing all my fancy new baklavas. UNTIL NOW.

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What I did discover is that if I rope George into the making process with me, it goes MUCH faster. Luckily, since he’s so gung-ho on whatever my baklava adventures are at the time, he’s always game to help. I can get the filling ready while he butters the phyllo layers. So of course, this pizza baklava was the perfect opportunity for some kitchen-time-togetherness. Awww, isn’t that just sweet??

So let’s talk about this. Pizza baklava version 1.0 consists of pepperoni and sausage. There’s no point in calling it “pizza” if I’m not going classic for the first test, amiright? I used cubed pepperoni chunks instead of slices to replicate the texture of the typical nut filling more closely. Some caramelized onions add a lovely sweetness to the mixture. Baklava calls for the buttering of every sheet of phyllo dough, but doesn’t this sound like a perfect opportunity for olive oil as well? How about some garlic-infused olive oil mixed with some melted butter? Can I get an AMEN! Also, let’s class it up a little bit with some fresh herbs. My sauce already had a slew of dried basil and oregano, so there was no point in duplicating that effort. Fresh, however, would be a lovely addition to the flavor as well as a garnish.

The ingredients are all pretty basic, so using good quality items is what will make a difference! I started making my own pasta sauce a few months ago so I used that for the baklava. However, store-bought will be just fine. I also had problems finding pepperoni chunks, oddly enough, so I had my deli man slice some ridiculously thick slices (1/4″) of deli-sized pepperoni. Seriously, you’d think I was making pepperoni burger patties.

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::: PIZZA BAKLAVA ::: 

Garlic-Infused Olive Oil & Butter:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 (1 stick) unsalted butter
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped in half

Filling:

3/4 lb (12 oz) pepperoni (in cube/chunk form)
3/4 lb (12 oz) ground italian sausage, uncooked
*Note: Amount of cooked italian sausage needed is 1/2 lb, or 8 oz
12 basil leaves, chopped
1 1/2 springs of oregano, leaves chopped
3/4 cup sauce
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded asiago cheese

Plus…
18 sheets phyllo dough (Usually a standard sized box comes with two rolls. This would be one of those rolls.)
1 1/2 cups sauce (separate from sauce mentioned above)
2 medium shallots, chopped
2 tbsp butter
pinch of kosher salt
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1. In saucepan over medium heat, combine olive oil, butter, and garlic cloves. Bring to a very gentle simmer, then lower heat. Cook for 5-7 minutes, allowing garlic cloves to infuse their flavor into the butter/oil mixture. Do not let garlic cloves burn. Strain into bowl, removing the garlic. Let cool.

2. Chop shallots, then cook over low-medium heat with 2 tbsp butter and pinch of kosher salt. Cook slowly, stirring every few minutes. You want them to become a glorious golden brown. The whole process probably takes 15-20 minutes, so in the meantime…

3. Cook the ground sausage in a skillet, chopping it to fine pieces.

4. In large bowl, combine all filling ingredients (pepperoni, cooked sausage, cheeses, fresh herbs, and sauce).

5. In 13″ x 9″ pan sprayed with non-stick spray, start layering phyllo dough. Place a layer in the pan, then brush with the garlic butter/oil mixture. Then place another layer of phyllo down, then brush with butter. On the THIRD LAYER, brush with the butter/oil and then with a thin layer of pizza sauce. Do this again until you reach the sixth layer.

** NOTE: See structural diagram below for visual! **

6. After you cover layer #6 with oil and sauce, scoop out half of the filling on top and spread over the dough evenly. Sprinkle half of mozzarella cheese on top.

7. Commence layering process. 1 – butter – 2 – butter – 3 – butter – sauce – 4 – butter – 5 – butter – 6 – butter – sauce – rest of filling – rest of mozzarella.

8. Add the last layers of phyllo! Spread top layer with—can you guess?—butter/oil mixture.

9. Grab a sharp knife (carefully, please), and cut this amazing structure into pieces. We cut 15 slices out of it, but you could easily make them smaller to yield more.

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10. Bake at 350° in a preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, rotating half-way through.

11. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Re-cut your pieces. Let oozy greasy cheesiness calm down a bit before removing from the pan, but you do want to serve this warm! (I’m going to be really real with you though—the microwave will reheat these things just fine.)

12. Serve to a hungry crowd!

HIGHLY TECHNICAL STRUCTURAL DIAGRAM

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BEER BACON NUTS

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Beeeeer. Put it in any sort of food description and suddenly people are all “OOOOH,” and “AHHHH.” If you were to say “chocolate cake” people would be like “Oh, cool,” but if you say “beer chocolate cake” people will be like “Whhuuutttt???? I want some!” Think about it. Cheese vs. beer cheese. Pork vs. beer braised pork. Pizza vs. Beer & Pizza. It’s an instant enhancement. It’s kind of the same thing with bacon. Bacon anything is intriguing. The sentence “I have bacon chocolate chip cookies,” yields a lot more excitement than the mere “I have chocolate chip cookies.” What is it about beer and bacon that they make anything an intriguing novelty???

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Duh. Because both are pretty awesome on their own, so obviously they’d make anything else even MORE awesome. But what if the two are paired together into one cluster of awesomeness? Do heads explode? Are minds blown? Does world peace suddenly ensue because everyone’s happy? Nah, not really. But deliciousness happens and that’s happiness enough! Let’s continue on this Super Bowl-friendly beer theme and mix in some bacon! The game is a few days away and you’re going to need some snackitude, so it’s time to get serious. Beer. Plus some bacon. Plus some nuts. All of it candied together.

Say whuuuttt? Oh yes, we’re going there. Before we get to the recipe, here are a few quick notes.

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We've made this a few times, so we've adapted the recipe to our preferences. Such as MORE BACON. The original recipe calls for 6 slices, but we felt that wasn't enough for the amount of nuts involved. We recommend 8. I could even push it to 9, I ain't scared. But hey, it's your prerogative.
The nut selection. The original recipe calls for peanuts, corn nuts, and almonds in varying proportions. Corn nuts are perfectly un-classy and appropriate for football food, and peanuts are easy on the pocketbook (also, very football snacky). Instead of almonds, we went with pecans because we like pecans. You could use pistachios if you want. You could use whatever you have in your pantry if you want. It'll be just dandy.
As for the beers, we've used nut brown beers and regular ol' nonfancy beer. Honestly, I can't remember if it made a ginormous impact or not so I'm going to assume not. While the foodie in me should recommend a dark, nutty, rich beer, the regular schmoe in me wants to let you know that it's going to be addictive either way so just use what you have! 
This stuff gets STICKY. Portion it out using cupcake liners. It looks cute and everyone can grab a little bunch and munch. If you plan ahead and like a cute presentation, get liners in the team colors. I happened to have orange liners. I like Peyton Manning and will be cheering for the Broncos. Therefore, orange cupcake liners won.

BeerBaconNuts-Details
: : : BEER BACON NUTS : : :
Adapted from Food Network Magazine
1/3 cup beer
8 slices of UNCOOKED bacon (I know, it sounds weird, just go with it)
1 tablespoon salt
1 pinch cayenne
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups pecans
1 cup peanuts
1 cup corn nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with foil. Slice the uncooked bacon.
2. Boil the beer, the sliced uncooked bacon pieces, brown sugar, salt, and cayenne. Boil until the beer evaporates and it’s a bit syrup-y, about 8 minutes.
3. Mix in the nuts and spread on the foil-lined baking sheet. Pop the pan in the oven for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. We baked it until the bacon’s texture was a little crispy.
4. Afterwards, divvy up the mixture up into cupcake cups. The yield depends on how much you want to fill the cups. To fill the cups generously to the top (like we did), you’ll yield about 16 cups.
Get it? Got it? Good. Go team!

CORN SOUP, AKA LIQUID CORN ON THE COB

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Creamy corn soup. It tastes like…well, corn. But in the best possible way. It’s like indulging in a liquid corn on the cob, and it will take you to a very happy place. Because you know what’s delicious? Yup, that’s right. CORN. Fresh corn covered in butter and salt. It’s our summer time guilty pleasure. But it’s winter, so why am I torturing you, talking about fresh corn that won’t appear for another 7 months?? Let me tell you another story first.

I’m very lucky to have a few best friends in my life. They’re true blue, couldn’t ask for better, absolute BFFs who have been and will be around for probably the rest of my life. My bestie Seethal (say it with me: SHEE-thul) and I have been together for 23 years. We met in 2nd grade and it was best friend magic ever since. One of our shared loves in life is clothes. Fashion. Style. Cute things. Gold bling and bows and a good sale at J.Crew. For example, Kate Spade occasionally has those super dangerous online sales, the kind where things are marked down 75%-ish and you’re like “HANG ON, I don’t care what’s going on around me because I have to check out this sale please and thank you.” I bought my laptop bag a few months ago on one of these sales, a green and navy rugby striped bag. It’s super cute, super preppy, and I was so psyched. I get home one day and the package is waiting for me on the porch. I rip it open and quickly snap photos to text to Seethal b/c these are her favorite colors. So much so that her wedding scheme for her upcoming nuptials was navy, gold, and emerald. Obviously, she will love this bag. So I texted her pics of my new laptop bag and her response was “You crack me up. I ordered that same one. I hope it’s there when I get home!”

Seethal was married in wine country this past October and the event. Was. Stunning. It was so beautiful. The girl has great taste and her wedding planner did a killer job. Both the wedding and reception was at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, CA which was probably the most fabulous place George and I will ever travel. (They have a croquet pro on staff—hellooo, fancypants!) (We peaked too early!!!) The reception dinner menu had several courses, one of which was a soup course. Can I get a drum roll for this please?

Roasted corn soup with summer truffles and crispy corn, paired with Miner Viogner wine.

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I wish I had a photo of the actual soup, but George and I were too busy rambling “Oh my God that’s amazing” in between spoonfuls that all I have is the pretty gold place setting that came before it. Sorry, kids. But anyway…

HOLY. MOLY. That was some mother-lovin’ fantastic soup. Honestly, it was just a delicious, creamy, smooth-as-silk corn soup that was like a liquid corn on the cob. I don’t know how else to describe it. So simple, so pure. And it made me so sad that corn was out of season. I had a sudden NEED to figure out how to make this soup. It plagued the back of my mind for days. On the plane back home I was thinking “…how am I going to make that soup? I wonder if I can find a good recipe online. Can I really wait until summer?? Would canned corn work? Gross I can’t believe I just thought about canned corn.” For some dumb reason it took me a day to realize HELLO. THEY SELL FROZEN CORN AT THE GROCERY STORE. AND IT DOESN’T TASTE JANKY. *facepalm* Canned corn tastes like the can. Frozen corn? Totally normal! I can’t believe I even considered the canned stuff.

The weekend after the wedding was a wonderfully weird moment of freedom. It was the first weekend in a year and a half that did not have some wedding something-or-other leading up to it. You know how I mentioned my few best friends? Well, we all got married within one year, almost to the day. First was Morgan in November. Then George and I got married in May. Then came Heather in August. Finally, Seethal in October. When it wasn’t for our own wedding, I was doing something for someone else’s wedding. Which was great! I loved every minute of the weddingpalooza that was our lives, because these girls are my family. But having legit free time back was kind of a cool concept. I decided to crack out a few recipes I’ve been dying to try and that pesky corn soup was the first one on the list. It took priority over everything else.

After doing some research of several recipes, they all seemed pretty simple and similar. That was encouraging. I decided to combine two recipes and make this soup my Saturday afternoon goal. So without further babble, let’s get to it!!

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::: FRESH CORN SOUP :::

Note: I’m using frozen corn in this recipe, but ideally—when in season—fresh corn would be used.

Total Process Time: 1 hr 30 min

• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (Note: since that amount is slightly ambiguous, I used 80 g of onion, for your reference)
• 3 small cloves garlic (from 1 pod of colossal/elephant garlic)
• 4 cups corn, freshly cut from the cob – I used 1 bag + a fraction of another bag (Trader Joe’s Super Sweet Cut White Corn, 16 oz wt.) to yield 4 cups. By weight, it is 515 g.
• 1 1/2  tsp kosher salt
• 1/2 tsp black pepper
• 1 – 2 TBSP sugar
• 3 – 3 1/2  cups milk (2%)
• 1 cup half-and-half
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, plus more for grating on each serving

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1. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Gently cook onions in hot butter until tender—do not let them brown. Add 4 cups corn and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Stir well, then cook until tender and translucent, but don’t the onions or corn brown. Stir in 1 TBSP of the sugar.

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2. In a medium saucepan combine 2 1/2 cups of the milk and the half-and-half. Warm over medium-low heat just until heated through. Pour the corn mixture into the warm milk. Stirring often over medium heat, bring just to simmering. Remove from heat. Cool slightly.

Note: without cool time, the above process took about an hour.

3. Puree soup in batches, one-third at a time, until very smooth. Pour pureed soup through a fine wire strainer set over a bowl, allowing soup to drain through (push through sieve with robber spatula). I strained my soup once, but if you want it extra smooth you can strain it multiple times. Return soup to pan. Reheat over medium heat. For thinner soup, warm the remaining 1/2-1 cup milk over medium heat; gradually stir into soup to reach desired consistency. Taste for seasoning; add salt and the remaining 1 TBSP sugar to your preference.

Makes 4 cups after straining once.