Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dabbling in Decorating: Jeep Cake

During our Thanksgiving visit to Chicago, we had the privilege of celebrating my cousin Ethan's 20th birthday as a family. While other family members were still recovering from Thursday's feast and Friday's shopping, my Aunt Amy woke early on Saturday to begin work on my cousin's birthday cake.

A yellow cake with Great Grandma's famous chocolate icing is the tradition, but this year's cake had a special twist: a Jeep topper to let my cousin know he'd be getting the Jeep he'd had his heart set on.

Since Ethan is helping to pay for his new wheels, he'd already figured out the surprise - which meant we wanted the cake to be extra special. The layers were already baked and two of them already iced when we decided to surprise Ethan with an creative cake. Instead of a Jeep atop a round layer cake, we created a chocolate-covered off road landscape! 

My aunt and I  - both dedicated dessert lovers - put our heads together for a few minutes, and came up with a great design that was easy to put together and oh-so-delicious. Great Grandma's Chocolate Icing provided the perfect texture for tire tracks and we shaped some boulders from leftover icing, thickened with more powdered sugar and dusted with cocoa powder. Naturally brown German rock sugar simulated pebbles and smaller rocks.

I'm a decent baker, but a cake decorator I am not, so I was thrilled with the finished product - and I think Ethan and his friends were, too. The only thing better than seeing his reaction? Digging in!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lost in Translation

Maybe it was because I'd just received an e-mail about Lonely Planet's Lost in Translation contest, or perhaps because I had just returned from a particularly numbing visit to the dentist (and needed of a bit of cheering up), but last night I spent several happy minutes browsing

As a former English major and an avid traveler, nothing gets me laughing like a good bit of Engrish - it may not be very politically correct, but these little gems of grammatical guesswork certainly are entertaining!

Opening Soon: Chinatown Disney Cafe. Order, if you dare!
(Photo courtesy of

While I laugh at the awkward toilet signs and tear up at the unintentionally embarrassing t-shirts, my favorites are the mis-translated menus. They're not always the most amusing, but they're often the most bizarre - and they remind me of the brief time I spent as a menu translator in Germany. Since German shares a lot of similarities with English, my job wasn't nearly as humorous as the creators' of, but it certainly had its moments.

How patriotic!
(Photo courtesy of

I stumbled into the work on the recommendation of a German friend who, as a more-than-competent English-speaker, had done a lot of translating herself. She was looking for a partner and I found the work so interesting that I couldn't resist. My German is conversational, at best, but I certainly knew enough menu words in both languages to make the translation easy. I would pore over the menus for a few minutes or hours (depending on how much help was needed!), submit my corrections, and then enjoy a delicious meal on the house.

On my first job, I got 'paid' in fried carp - fresh from a local pond - and the rich flavor and tender flesh was a revelation . I knew, then, that I had found the perfect job; I made my own hours, found the work fascinating, and often got paid in food - what more could a hungry girl want?

Goodness knows why people keep having a bad reaction to this dish!
(Photo courtesy of

Sadly, my return to the States cut my 'career' - and my source of free dinners - abruptly short. Although it was never intended to be a wage-earning job, I'd certainly recommend it as an option for starving students abroad!  In addition to earning me a seat in restaurants I'd never have been able to visit otherwise, it also provided a bit of income and an entertaining experience that, now, can only be relived by scrolling through pages hilarity ridden pages of Go on, eat up and enjoy!

For when a little crap just isn't enough
(Photo courtesy of

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cheesy Ham and Potato Hash

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Matt and I took a trip up to Chicago to meet my new little nephew and spend the holiday with family. We played games, stuffed ourselves with desserts and feasted on lots and lots of turkey. I'm still nursing a bit of a tryptophan hangover, so while everyone else is still talking turkey, I'll share one last recipe for transforming leftover ham!

I was so proud of myself for writing up this recipe over the holiday weekend (I rarely get the chance to write up posts ahead of time, but I knew I'd be busy unpacking today) - and then I accidentally deleted it this morning, so you'll be getting a bit of a condensed version!

Thank goodness, then, that this dish is incredibly simple; tender chunks of chopped ham, shredded cheddar cheese, home-fried potatoes and a bit of egg for binding. This may sound like the perfect leftover ham breakfast, but it's also great for lunch or dinner... or a post-Thanksgiving snack!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Czech Sugar Cookies (12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies - Week 9)

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and while everyone else is talking turkey (have you defrosted yours yet?) I'm sharing some of my favorite cookies for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies. I'll be one the road for most of tomorrow and since many of you will be spending the day in the kitchen, I thought I'd give you a chance to get your holiday cookie fix before things start getting too crazy! Plus, if you start now, you can still serve these unique and tasty cookies at your Thanksgiving table!

A long time ago, when this blog was just in its infancy, I did a post about my culinary ancestry. I've mentioned my Czech heritage a few times since, but never have I been more proud to share an 'ethnic' recipe than I am to share these special cookies.

Warm with vanilla, rich with butter, and covered with a sweet sheen of buttery powdered sugar, these little morsels are like no other cookie I've ever tasted. They may look a little like Mexican Wedding Cakes - or Russian Teacakes, whichever name you prefer - but their texture and taste is entirely different (for one thing, they're nut-free). Dense like a shortbread, but soft and tender like a Snickerdoodle, these cookies have a smooth-as-ice-cream vanilla flavor. But that's not even the best part! A quick dip in powdered sugar prior to baking leaves them glistening with their own special 'icing' when they come out of the oven.

Like my family's favorite Colonial Williamsburg Gingerbread, these cookies take pride of place on our Christmas cookie platter each year, so it only makes sense that I would share them for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies. I wish I could say that the recipe was a family heirloom, handed down through generations and carried across the Atlantic Ocean by my immigrant ancestors, but the cookie is a relatively new addition to our family collection (and by relatively new, I mean we've been making them almost as long as I've been alive!). It comes from a great little book called The Czech Book, which shares cultural and historical details in addition to recipes. There are a lot of gems in that slim volume, but if you're making these cookies, you're making the best!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Deceptively Simple Chicken Cordon Bleu

A savory chicken breast, wrapped around a flavorful center of chopped ham and molten blue cheese, covered in seasoned whole wheat breadcrumbs and gently baked to golden, crispy perfection- who doesn't like Chicken Cordon Bleu? This simple, yet elegant dish is one of my favorite ways to use up leftover ham, not just because it's delicious (and surprisingly easy to make!), but also because it has some cherished memories attached.

When I was a child, I almost never ate pre-packaged, processed foods. It wasn't that my mom was a health nut, or that she feared the 'evils' of the fast food industry (although I think there's something to be said for limiting your intake of processed and fast foods), she was just a good, old-fashioned homemaker who enjoyed whipping up tasty, wholesome meals to feed and nourish our large family. Only now, since I've had my own home, have I realized just how skilled she really was, always improvising new meals and creating menus to please seven very different palates!

On the rare occasion that we did eat processed foods, however, I'd always choose the single-serving Chicken Cordon Bleu from the freezer aisle (you know the one I'm talking about - the one that somehow manages to package a zillion calories into one tiny, bronzed bundle of chicken, ham and cheesy sauce?). Served with rice and broccoli, this was better than any restaurant fare to my childish tastebuds (but not, of course, better than my mother's cooking). The meal lost a bit of its charm when I grew up to discover that I was taking in lots of extra calories and sodium with my chicken-ham-and-cheese deliciousness, but I still never lost the taste for Cordon Bleu.

Sorry for the less-than-stellar photography - we were hungry and sometimes dinner waits for no man...or woman!

Pumpkin Cornbread

Okay, so I'm interrupting my little 'festival of leftover ham' to share this recipe for Pumpkin Cornbread because a) it's tasty and b) I think it would make a great Thanksgiving side dish for those of you who are still planning your menu or looking for a few ideas to fill the last few inches of your Thanksgiving table.

I know we're all a little too busy for novel-length blog posts this week, but it goes against the grain to share a recipe without at least a little bit of a backstory, so I'll give us all something to be thankful for and promise to keep it brief!

My sister, Rebecca, is a great cook - probably one of the best 'natural cooks' I know. By that I mean that she can take almost any combination of ingredients and turn them into something that's not only edible, but actually nourishing and delicious. When we were growing up, we used to split kitchen duties - I was always the baker and she was the cook. In the years since, I've managed to hold my own in the kitchen, but I still defer to my sister's expertise whenever the family gets together in front of the stove.

All this is to say that when Rebecca recommends a recipe, I pay attention, and when she recommended this pumpkin cornbread (from Tracy at Sugarcrafter), I couldn't wait to try it out. Fresh from our visit to Hilton Head Island's ROASTFISH & CORNBREAD, with its signature sweet potato cornbread, this recipe just begged to be made.

A church potluck gave me the perfect excuse to give it a try, and since I had a lot of mouths to feed and am rarely able to resist the urge to innovate, I actually ended up making three different batches of pumpkin cornbread; the first was faithful to Tracy's recipe, the second was based on an Allrecipes version, and the third was a bit of improvisation, based on Matt's feedback from the first two batches. While Matt preferred my sweeter, denser, brown-sugar-topped version (inspired by Chef David's moist and tender, sweet potato-based bread), Tracy's recipe won the popular vote, so that's the version I'm sharing. I guess that just proves I should have trusted my sister (and Tracy!) after all!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Hearty Split Pea and Ham Soup

A couple of days ago, I shared a fool-proof recipe for holiday ham that is as simple as it is delicious. Now, assuming you went right out and bought your ham, basted it in its dreamy honey-and-brown-sugar glaze, and served it up with some glazed carrots and mashed potatoes, you're probably beginning to wonder what to do with the leftovers. Because somehow, no matter how tasty the roast, ham always leaves leftovers.

Well, the next few days should give you a few ideas (though not as many as I'd hoped - I guess our ham proved a little too tasty and we ran through the leftovers pretty quickly), and because I believe good things don't just come to those who wait, I'm sharing one of my favorites today.

Split Pea Soup is the perfect meal for this time of year, when the temperatures are dropping and we begin to crave warm, hearty, stick-to-your ribs fare. Luckily, this recipe only tastes decadent; it's actually pretty healthy and it's a great way to get your fill of veggies. Studded with tender carrots and stuffed with chopped ham, this soup has a slight sweetness to it (that's the honey glaze talking) that provides a great contrast to the slight saltiness of the ham. Serve with fresh, aromatic wedges of homemade bread or a nice hunk of pumpkin cornbread, for a seasonal touch.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chocolate and Peppermint Swirl Spritz Cookies (12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies - Week 8)

What would a Christmas cookie tray be without the buttery little morsel that is the spritz cookie? Not everyone loves a thickly iced sugar cookie or a spicy gingerbread (although I sure do!), but spritz cookies always seem to have mass appeal. I mean, what's not to love? They're sweet, buttery, bite-sized and come in all sorts of novelty shapes - and they're the favorites of grandmas and church potluck bakers everywhere.

Of course, if I want there to be any chance of Matt liking a new recipe these days, I have to include chocolate. One of his favorite cookies of all time is the Cool Mint Oreo, and so the idea for a choco-peppermint spritz sandwich cookie was born. I made one or two in a regular Oreo shape, too, but the pressed cookies were so much more fun.

Unfortunately, in my excitement about contributing these Christmas classics to the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies party, I completely overlooked the fact that they can be a right pain to make - especially when you don't have a non-nonstick baking sheet (how was I unaware of this deficiency in my kitchen arsenal until now?).

After a few unsuccessful attempts at getting the cookies to stick to my baking sheet, I got creative and tried everything from the pizza stone (mmmm, is that a hint of garlic lurking behind all that chocolate?) to aluminum foil. In the end, the best answer seemed to be chilling the sheets in the fridge or freezer between batches - that and a whole lot of patience!

Thankfully, the end product turned out pretty cute and very tasty. The peppermint filling is even better than its Oreo inspiration - in my not-so-humble opinion - since it contains crushed peppermint candies for extra minty goodness. A word to the wise: don't skimp on the cocoa in this recipe - its smoky flavor makes for a great contrast with the brightness of the peppermint.

Rich Chocolate Spritz Cookies
based on this recipe from The Prepared Pantry

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. Cream together the butter and sugars, in the bowl of a stand mixer, until fluffy. Add the eggs, vanilla extract and almond extract and mix until well combined.

Stir in the dry ingredients incrementally, taking care to scrape the sides of the bowl between each addition. Stir until smooth and well blended. Dough will be stiff.

Spoon the dough into a cookie press and press onto an ungreased baking sheet (stoneware works, too, but you'll need to increase the baking time). If dough refuses to stick, chill baking sheet in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes and try again. Leave about 1/2 inch between cookies and bake for 6-8 minutes or until the tops of the cookies are no longer glossy and feel dry when lightly pressed. Remove cookies from the baking sheet and cool on a clean countertop or, for crisper cookies, a wire rack.

Peppermint Swirl Sandwich Cookie Filling
Confession time - I didn't actually use a recipe (no surprises there, I guess!) but I can give you some guidelines to make the tastiest peppermint filling ever. I had Cool Mint Oreos on the brain when I created this recipe (Matt loves them so I was trying for a homemade substitute) and I really think this filling came close. 

Approx. 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (as needed to achieve the desired consistency)
2-4 drops peppermint extract (as desired)
Crushed peppermint candies
Red food coloring (optional)

Stir butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and peppermint extract to form a thick, smooth paste. Add powdered sugar to reach the desired consistency (think extra thick Oreo filling). Stir in crushed candies. Divide filling in half and tint one half with red food coloring. Roll each half into a log (or as near a log as possible) and then roll the two logs together, creating a swirl pattern. Slice filling into discs and sandwich between two cookies, pressing gently against a countertop or other level surface to cement together.

A few notes: It had been a long time since I'd made spritz cookies, and this recipe just served to remind me why! Sure, they're delicious, but they're also kind of a pain to make - especially if you don't have a non-nonstick baking sheet. Chilling your baking sheets prior to use helps a little, but the best answer is just to have patience! Of course, it probably didn't help that my cookie press is older than I am. It doesn't have the bells and whistles of today's models - and it's a real treat to clean afterwords - but it's a family treasure, and that makes these cookies taste even better!

Never-Fail Honey Baked Holiday Ham

Well, folks, it happened. Somehow it's already mid-November and the holidays are right around the corner. The shops are already hanging garland from the aisles and blasting Bing Crosby from the loudspeakers. Thanksgiving is just a week (just a week?!!) away, but while everyone else is beginning to think about turkey, the next few days on The Traveling Spoon are going to be all about ham.

Why, you may ask? Well, I personally always associate a clove-studded, crisp-skinned, honey baked ham with the holiday season and it's never too early to begin thinking about your Christmas menu....Then, too, there's the fact that I got a great deal on a ham a couple of weeks ago and just cooked it up for us last week.

Today's recipe provides the basic instructions for a tender, moist, ever-so-slightly-sweet ham that's almost impossible to screw up. Of course, cooking the ham is the easy part - it's a lot harder to come up with creative ways to serve up the inevitable leftovers (because 6 pounds of ham is a lot for two people!) so that's what the next few posts will be about. Master today's recipe and you can look forward to a whole week of ham-based meals - don't worry, I'll try to introduce a bit of variety!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stack's Pancakes, Hilton Head, SC

Today's restaurant is another Hilton Head classic and the last stop on my tasty tour of the Island. Like the Plantation Cafe, Stack's Pancakes is a breakfast-and-lunch place, but it's there that the similarities end. While I get the impression that the Plantation Cafe is better known for its lunches, it's at breakfast that Stack's menu really shines.

The restaurant is physically unimpressive, both inside and out, but the substantial breakfast crowd just illustrates how little this really matters. If you're the sort of person who's not too picky about packaging as long as the food inside is good, you'll find that Stack's is a real diamond in the rough.

We'd sampled their catering menu at an event earlier in the week and weren't too terribly impressed, so we entered the restaurant with some reservations. Thankfully, we needn't have worried. Our server was a charming young man from Bulgaria who shared the menu highlights, as well as his personal favorites (I always like an inside tip!) while keeping us supplied with water and mugs of fresh-ground coffee. Matt and his parents ordered massive omelets - we guessed about 4 eggs each! - which came with home-fried potatoes or grits, and a stack of plate-sized pancakes or toast. Even Matt's sizable appetite was sated by this enormous breakfast feast!

Is that omelet not gigantic?

I experienced some momentary food envy when the omelets arrived, massive and steaming on plates heaped with side items, but then our waiter brought out my Creme Brulee French Toast - a Stack's signature dish - and the rightness of my choice was instantly confirmed. Three long, thick slices of sourdough bread were soaked in cream (yes, cream!), vanilla and Grand Marnier, before being grilled and topped with caramel and a creamy house-made Creme Brulee sauce. Sweet and rich enough for dessert, this meal was almost too lovely for breakfast and kept me full (and giddy) for most of the day. One thing is certain, this is not a dish for the sugar-shy!

Our visit to Stack's was pretty brief, but undeniably delicious. The menu has something for everyone - from the hungry husband (who actually brought home a to-go box!) to the sweet-craving spouse (who still daydreams about Creme Brulee French Toast), and all for a very reasonable price. If you're looking for a satisfying breakfast on Hilton Head Island, look no further than Stack's Pancakes.

Grits: a Low Country staple!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget

I woke up this morning with the intention of writing up and sharing the last of my Hilton Head restaurant reviews. I got only as far as the title when I realized that I would be remiss if I let today pass without making at least some mention of Veterans Day.

When I was a child in England, we observed Armistice Day on November 11th, pinning paper poppies to the lapels of our school uniforms in a tradition that harked back to the end of WWI, and the very first Armistice Day on November 11th, 1918. I remember watching news coverage of the Remembrance Day ceremonies, as veterans of that 'war to end all wars,' now frail and old, but still living, honored their fallen comrades and received honor themselves. In a country still so conscious of the ravages of that war, the history of this day felt almost palpable.

As a teen, I visited the battlefields of WWI in France and Belgium, making pilgrimages to the Menin Gate  (a memorial to the soldiers of the British Commonwealth) at Ypres, the still-preserved trenches at Vimy Ridge, and the Douaumont Ossuary at Verdun. I was impressed by the stillness of these places, and the reverence with which they had been cared for and preserved through the years.

These early encounters gave me an appreciation for the value of military service, and fostered an understanding of the importance of remembering, so it shouldn't be so surprising that, a few years later, I was putting on a uniform myself. I don't talk much about my military background on this blog, mostly because this is a food and travel blog and I don't consider my experiences to be particularly relevant. But occasionally, on days like today, they intersect.

The wars of today may look nothing like the First World War, but the importance of remembering has not diminished since that first Armistice Day almost a century ago. In fact, the case for observance grows more important with each passing year. The wars we fight today have no possibility of sobering battlefield visits, and daily casualty numbers and graphic news footage have inured us, somewhat, to the horrors of war. Without remembrance, there is the very real possibility that war and sacrifice will become nothing more than background noise in our ever-busy lives.

So today is an important day, not only for those of us who have lost friends, colleagues and loved ones, but also for those of us who are tempted to forget the individual and sometimes personal price of freedom, and for our children, who are just beginning to understand the meaning of sacrifice. If you know someone who has served or is serving in the military, take the time to thank them today and make it personal - their service certainly is!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

All-Butter Snickerdoodles (12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies - Week 7)

It's almost mid- November, and even though I won't be whipping out my Christmas decorations until after Thanksgiving, I think it's finally acceptable to start bringing the Red-and-Green to our weekly Christmas Cookie party. Don't you agree?

To mark the occasion, I'm sharing a staple of holiday cookie trays everywhere - the Snickerdoodle! I'm pretty excited about this week because I just love Snickerdoodles. I mean, who doesn't like a good old-fashioned, wholesome spice cookie?

Unfortunately, everyone's favorite cinnamon-and-sugar-dusted-cookie-with-the-crazy-name isn't always so wholesome. Most recipes call for equal measures of shortening and butter - that's what helps the cookies keep their perfectly rounded shape and gives them their pillowy texture. Sadly, shortening is on the 'Naughty' list these days, so to make these cookies healthier (if you can call something with more butter healthier!) and to give them a richer flavor, I baked up an all-butter version.

The recipe is based on a Cooks Illustrated cookie and, given the copious amount of research that goes into each of their recipes, I felt awful about changing it...but sometimes a girl needs to just follow her heart. And my heart wanted all-butter, shortening-free Snickerdoodles. I actually ended up shipping these cookies off to my Grandma (they're her favorites - and at 93 years old, she knows what she likes!) but not before I tasted a few...for quality control purposes, of course.

To make my cookies extra-festive, I dyed my sugar red and green. I'm sure the addition of food coloring negates any of the health benefits I accrued from omitting the shortening, but life is about balance, right?

All-Butter Snickerdoodles

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, unsalted and slightly softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
3 Tablespoons sugar, for rolling
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon, for rolling

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a silicone liner. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt until well combined. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until fluffy and well mixed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs, beating until mixture is smooth and well-combined. Add the dry ingredients incrementally and stir until just combined.

Mix the additional sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl or on a steep-sided plate. Form the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture to coat completely. Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet, about 2 inches apart. (Tip: To make the rolling process easier and less messy, return dough, tightly covered with plastic wrap, to the refrigerator between batches.)

Bake until the edges of the cookies just begin to set, about 8-10 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool briefly on the baking sheet before transferring to a clean countertop or wire rack to cool.

This post has been shared at:
A Southern Fairytale: Mouthwatering Monday - Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: Melt In Your Mouth Monday - Skip to My Lou: Made By You Monday - Delightfully Dowling: Mangia Mondays - Keeping It Simple: Motivate Me Monday - C.R.A.F.T: Making Monday Marvelous - Making the World Cuter: Making the World Cuter Monday - Dittle Dattle: Amaze Me Monday - Marvelously Messy: A Marvelous Mess - 33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays - Blessed with Grace: Tempt My Tummy Tuesday - From Mess Hall to Bistro: Made From Scratch Tuesday - Mandy's Recipe Box: Totally Tasty Tuesdays - Naptime Creations: Tasty Tuesday - Reasons To Skip the Housework: Tuesday Time Out - Sweetology: Tea Party Tuesday - Confessions of a Stay At Home Mommy: Tuesday Confessional - I'm Topsy Turvy: Topsy Turvy Tuesdays - Chef in Training: Tuesday Talent Show - At Home With Haley: Recipes I Can't Wait to Try - Sew Much Ado: We Did It Wednesday - Sugar and Dots: What I Whipped Up Wednesday - This Chick Cooks: These Chicks Cooked - My Girlish Whims: Your Whims Wednesday - Blue Cricket Design: Show and Tell Wednesday - Polkadots on Parade: Wow Me Wednesday - Miz Helen's Country Cottage: Full Plate Thursday - It's a Keeper: It's a Keeper Thursday - What Allie's Making Now: Making It With Allie - Bizzy Bakes: Bake with Bizzy - The 36th Avenue: Share Your Awesomeness Thursday - Simply Sweet Home: Friday Favorites - Designs By Gollum: Foodie Friday - Creation Corner: Friday Link Party - Fingerprints on the Fridge: Feature Yourself Friday

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

(Not) Just Pasta, Hilton Head, SC

From seafood, to classic diner fare, to pasta, Hilton Head Island really has it all - and this next restaurant has more on offer than you might think. Formerly known as 'Just Pasta' (most restaurant booklets from the time of our stay still had this name in print), this cozy Italian eatery is undergoing a name change to reflect it's more diverse menu. The new name? Not Just Pasta.

Three Cheese Tortellini

Located in Hilton Head's oldest shopping center, Coligny Plaza, the restaurant's quaint interior belies it's somewhat strip mall-like location. Cozy wooden booths, an attractive bar area, and a delectable haze of warm bread and pasta smells lend an air of intimacy and authenticity. Charmed as I was by the interior, we decided to eat outside to make the most of the fine weather; the little cafe tables out front just added to the illusion of European charm, and their lunchtime pasta buffet was also set up outside, filling the whole place with the most delicious aromas and advertising far more effectively than any website or brochure could. One hint of pesto and a whiff of fresh tomato and basil sauce and we were sold!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Plantation Cafe and Deli, Hilton Head

So many times in life we're forced to choose between quality and convenience, so I always feel a little surge of triumph when I find a place that combines the two - a place like Hilton Head's Plantation Cafe and Deli.

Located just across the road from the resort where we spent the week, this unassuming restaurant serves up breakfast and lunch daily. Sure it's a popular tourist haunt, but it's also favored by locals who prize its reasonably-priced hot breakfasts and the lunchtime Blue Plate specials. In fact, that Plantation Cafe provided such good food and value (along with some of the most pleasant servers I've ever met) that we returned a couple of times during our brief visit to the Island.

The decor and atmosphere are pretty standard as far as cafes go, but there are some interesting stained glass window pane decorations and a cozy-looking bar to give it a bit of character. What it may lack in presentation, it more than makes up for in the friendliness of the staff. On each visit, our server was the perfect combination of polite and playful.

Reuben Sandwich

So by now you must be wondering about the food! Well, between the four of us and our repeat visits, we were able to sample a few Blue Plates and some soup-and-salad combos. The real stand out item, however, was their She Crab Soup. Rich and creamy with some sizable lumps of crab, the soup was especially tasty when paired with a half turkey-and-Havarti sandwich on toasted rye bread (a bowl on its own won't be enough if you come hungry).

She-Crab Soup with a half Turkey and Havarti Sandwich on Rye

Friday, November 4, 2011

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

In an effort to ward off seafood withdrawal after our week in Hilton Head, Matt and I indulged is some Linguine with White Clam Sauce last night. This simple seafood pasta dish is not only easy to prepare and richly flavored, but also wonderfully nostalgic for me. This recipe was reserved for special occasions during our childhood - it was the standing menu for my parent's anniversary - so, even now, it evokes treasured memories of time spent celebrating round our family table.

To be perfectly honest, I've never asked my mom for her clam sauce recipe (I should!) and have always improvised my own on the few occasions I've been inspired to cook this dish - which isn't as often as I'd like - but I finally wrote down my basic recipe last night and here it is! I like to add mushrooms and wine, but these aren't strictly necessary. If you can get fresh clams, you should definitely substitute (you can make your own 'clam juice' to add, by cooking the clams in a mixture of wine and water and reducing this liquid before adding to the garlic, mushrooms and oil - be sure to strain for sand and grit first!).

Linguine with White Clam Sauce

1/2 lb linguine
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (6 1/2 oz) cans chopped clams in juice
3-4 cloves garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
4 oz mushrooms, sliced (5-6 large mushrooms)
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon basil
Flat leaf parsley, to taste
Parmesan cheese, to garnish

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook the linguine until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the chopped garlic and cook until lightly browned. Stir frequently and take care not to burn the garlic. Add the mushrooms and sautee until moistened. Press the juice from the canned clams and add juice to the saucepan. Add wine and basil and cook mixture over medium heat until liquid is greatly reduced and slightly thickened (you want it thick enough to coat and stick to the pasta, not just run off!). Add clams and cook until heated through. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Drain cooked pasta and return to saucepan. Toss with sauce to coat, and serve with a sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese or a squeeze of lemon juice.

This Post has been shared at:
A Southern Fairytale: Mouthwatering Monday
Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms: Melt in Your Mouth Monday
Skip To My Lou: Made By You Monday
Delightfully Dowling: Mangia Mondays
Keeping It Simple: Motivate Me Monday
C.R.A.F.T: Making Monday Marvelous
Making the World Cuter: Making the World Cuter Monday
Dittle Dattle: Amaze Me Monday
33 Shades of Green: Tasty Tuesdays
Blessed with Grace: Tempt My Tummy Tuesday
From Mess Hall to Bistro: Made From Scratch Tuesday
Mandy's Recipe Box: Totally Tasty Tuesdays
Naptime Creations: Tasty Tuesday
Reasons To Skip the Housework: Tuesday Time Out
Confessions of a Stay At Home Mommy: Tuesday Confessional
I'm Topsy Turvy: Topsy Turvy Tuesdays
Chef in Training: Tuesday Talent Show
At Home With Haley: Recipes I Can't Wait to Try
Someday Crafts: Whatever Goes Wednesday
Sugar and Dots: What I Whipped Up Wednesday
My Girlish Whims: Your Whims Wednesday

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pumpkin Crunch Cake (12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies - Week 6)

I have been in such a time warp since our return from vacation that I completely forgot today was Thursday and, thus, an occasion to bring out another plate of Christmas cheer for the 12 Weeks of Christmas Cookies. As luck would have it, I have the perfect holiday dessert to share - and one that's probably much richer, sweeter and all-around tastier than the cookie recipe I was planning on whipping up today!

This Pumpkin Crunch Cake is holiday baking personified: rich, creamy, buttery and indulgent. I'm a big fan of anything pumpkin, but when you add butter, sugar and nuts, and a crumbly, crunchy topping, well, that's a whole new ball game. I've seen this recipe all over the internet, with minor variations, but to be honest, these ingredients in any combination should be downright delicious. It's a great addition to a Christmas dessert platter, but also a perfect stand-in for a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, or a nice, dressed-up dessert for a regular old Thursday night (because I'm a firm believer that you can always find a reason to serve dessert).

I made this treat for Matt and his parents last week and the response was very enthusiastic. We ate ours still-hot from the pan, but my recommendation is to serve it chilled (with a bit of barely-sweetened whipped cream) if you can stand the wait!

Velvety Pumpkin Crunch Cake

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until well blended. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle dry cake mix over the pumpkin mixture, taking care to cover evenly. Top with chopped pecans and drizzle melted butter evenly over the pecans. Bake 50-60 minutes or until top is golden and mixture appears set (a knife in the center should come out mostly clean). Take care not to overbake the topping - remember, the pumpkin layer will set a little upon cooling. Serve chilled, with a dollop of cream.

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