Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Delicious Adventure in Helen, GA

This past weekend, Brad and I took a quick vacation getaway to one of our favorite little mountain towns - Helen, GA.  We fell in love with the German charm and easy-going atmosphere of this quaint community during our first visit there last year (see my post HERE) and have been wanting to go back ever since.  Sometimes, all you need is a few days of rest, relaxation and a tad bit of mountain adventure to recharge your batteries!  We had a TON of fun!

And you know what?  As it turns out, Helen, GA is a great place for a foodie to explore.  I love traveling to different places and checking out the local specialties, and there's no shortage in Helen.  Between the old-time general stores (the Old Sautee Store was my favorite!), farmers markets, fudge shoppes, Hofer's German Bakery, Jumpin' Goat Coffee Roasters, Nacoochee Grill, Nacoochee Village Tavern, and the Nora Mill Granary, there's delicious food around every turn...literally.

It's funny how my idea of a perfect souvenir has changed over the years.  Practically every souvenir we bought was somehow food-related, of course!  While there, we picked up:
  • White Speckled Grits from Nora Mill Granary
  • Yellow Cornmeal from Nora Mill Granary
  • Local Wildflower Honey
  • Tupelo Honey
  • Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans from Jumpin' Goat
  • A really cool Burlap Coffee Sack from Jumpin' Goat
  • Wine from Habersham Winery
  • Fresh Mississippi Mud & Almond Joy Fudge
  • Assorted pastries from Hofer's Bakery (Two Words:  Apple Fritters!)
  • "Farmer's Cheese" from the Old Sautee Store
Here are some more pics from the weekend (all taken with my trusty little iPhone):

Boiled peanuts in the making at a rustic farmers market

Fresh honey

An old barn we discovered on a walk through the woods with our dog, Hannah...

A little comic relief on that same walk through the woods.  It's hard to get Brad to pose for a picture without being silly in at LEAST one!

Antlers in a window

Goodies at Hofer's Bakery...If you ever go, you absolutely MUST try their Apple Fritters.  They alone are worth the drive to Helen...no kidding, folks.

That night back at the cabin, we built a cozy fire.  And, no fire would be complete without s'mores!  :)

While there, we hiked around a lake, which was beautiful.  I think Hannah had even more fun on this vacation than Brad and me!

Hiking around the lake...

Jumpin' Goat Coffee Roasters is a great coffee shop, with lots of fun things to browse through.  I found a really cool burlap coffee sack, and their chocolate covered coffee beans are quite addictive.  This is where I found the Tupelo honey...aka "liquid gold."

This must be the jumping goat!

Next door to Jumpin' Goat, the Nora Mill Granary offers so many wonderful products...White and yellow grits, cornmeal, whole wheat bread flour, poppy seeds, flax seeds, biscuit mixes, assorted preserves, honey, buckwheat flour, rye flour, porridge, kitchen toys, cookware, the list goes on and on...

Inside the granary...

Oak barrels inside Habersham Winery...

The Nacoochee Grill and Nacoochee Village Tavern both offer delicious food.  The Nacoochee Grill was our favorite restaurant on our trip last year, so we were excited to visit again this time around.  While the food was still great, the service was painfully slow when we ate there for lunch.  It took close to an hour to get our food!  However, we decided to give them one last shot and ate there again the next night for dinner.  This second visit was MUCH better.  Our food arrived quickly and the service was excellent.  Perhaps they were just having an off-day?  I had the Chicken Pot Pie and Brad chose the Shrimp and Grits. Yum!

The Nacoochee Village Tavern was wonderful!  This was our first visit to the Tavern, and they served up a DELISH pizza piled high with all the trimmings. 

The staff at Nacoochee Village Tavern was also wonderful.  Sean (on the left) and Chase (on the right) even posed for a quick picture in between all that pizza-making.

In conclusion, if you ever have the chance to visit Helen, GA, I highly recommend it.  I'm sure that Brad and I will return...hopefully sooner rather than later!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Swoon-Inducing Buttermilk Biscuits

I think I've done it...I've finally found a Buttermilk Biscuit recipe that's worthy of passing down to future generations.  With this recipe, Dorie Greenspan creates a flaky, swoon-inducing biscuit that has a wonderfully scrumptious taste.

There's something about homemade-from-scratch buttermilk biscuits that just makes me happy.  They are comforting, easy to make and are guaranteed to make any meal better, if you ask me.  Maybe it's the memories that going through the motions of patting out the dough and cutting the biscuits brings back for me.  When I was little, my grandmother would ask me to cut the biscuits using an upside-down glass as a cutter.  That was always so much fun.

First of all, buttermilk biscuits don't require fancy ingredients, and I bet you already have everything you need sitting in your kitchen.  Don't have buttermilk??  No problem at all...just substitute the buttermilk for regular milk in this recipe and remove the baking soda from the ingredients list.  You'll end up with Dorie's recipe for "Basic Biscuits" which is also fabulous!  

Second, they take no time at all to put together.  You basically put your dry ingredients into a bowl, cut in the butter with a pastry blender, add the buttermilk, and voila!  You've got yourself some delicious dough to work with.

And lastly, this recipe makes about 10-12 biscuits, so unless you're cooking for a large family you'll end up with extras.  There's no problem there either.  The solution?  Simply put the extra biscuits (before baking!) onto a cookie sheet and place them in the freezer.  As soon as they are frozen, seal them up in a plastic bag and keep stored in the freezer.  When you are ready to bake a few more, simply pop them into the oven...still frozen...and add 1-2 minutes onto the normal baking time.  That way, you'll always have biscuits fresh from the oven, because we all know that those right-out-of-the-oven flaky layers just aren't so flaky when reheated the next day.

Click Here for some great biscuit-making tips from Dorie Greenspan!

Bon Appetit, my friends!

Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from:  Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all-purpose flour (preferably White Lily brand)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp COLD unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Directions:Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in a bowl. Drop in butter and using fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Using fingertips or pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into dry ingredients until mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces of everything in between - and that's just right.

Pour the buttermilk over the dry ingredients, grab a fork and toss and gently turn the ingredients until you've got a nice soft dough. Now reach into the bowl with your hands and give the dough a quick gentle kneading - 3 or 4 turns should be enough to bring everything together.

Lightly dust a work surface with flour and turn out the dough. Dust the top of the dough very lightly with flour and pat the dough out with your hand or roll it until 1/2 inch high. Don't worry if its not completely even. Light touch is more important than accuracy.

Use a 2-inch biscuit cutter to cut out as many biscuits as you can. Try to cut the biscuits close to one another so you get the most you can out of this first round. By hand or with a small spatula, transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet. Gather together the scraps, working as little as possible, pat to a 1/2 inch thickness and cut as many additional biscuits as you can; transfer them to the sheet.

Bake the biscuits for 14 to 18 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden brown. Transfer to a serving basket.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Coconut-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tonight, I write this post with a very heavy heart.  There's a light rain falling outside, which unfortunately matches the sad mood around here.  It's been about a week since my last post, and I apologize for that.  The truth is, I just honestly haven't been up to writing this week.

Those of you who have experienced the joy that a dog can bring into your life will understand better than most.  On Valentine's Day, my sweetheart of a cocker spaniel, Lady, passed away after 13 fun-filled years right by my side.  She was the sweetest dog I've ever known, and I sure do miss that little pup so much.  She battled a cancerous tumor on her tummy for quite a while, and she fought it until the very end.  It was just her time, I guess.

This quote by Anatole France says it best:
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened."

I remember when I first got Lady...It was Christmas of 1998.  That year, I had asked for a cocker spaniel.  On Christmas morning, while I didn't open a box with a puppy inside, I did receive some cash that I could do whatever I wanted with.  We spent the holiday in the Great Smoky Mountains that year, and one place we always visited was The Apple Barn.  A few days after Christmas, I was walking up to the front entrance of The Apple Barn, when what did I see??  A sign posted on the door announcing that they had a new litter of cocker spaniel puppies for sale!  It was meant to be!  I looked at my mom and dad with a glimmer in my eye, and they instantly knew.

I rushed through the door, and asked the first Apple Barn employee I saw where I might find these painfully adorable little puppies.  Let's just say that it was love at first sight, and I very happily left that day with no Christmas money, but with my new floppy-eared best friend.  We've been inseparable ever since.  

Sometimes, baking is like therapy for me.  I can put on my apron, put some ingredients into the bowl of my stand-mixer, whip up something sweet, and it always makes me feel better.  So what did I do this past week?  I baked these amazing Coconut-Chocolate Chip Cookies.  They were easy, delicious, and contained chocolate...Just what I needed.  

You may have noticed that I love combining chocolate and coconut every chance I get.  It's my favorite sweet flavor combo, so it was an easy decision to make.  I was incredibly happy with the way these cookies came out.  They were a comforting and delicious dessert during a very difficult time.  The coconut flavors are perfectly complemented by the chocolate, and quite frankly, this is probably my new favorite cookie recipe. 

So, here's to Lady.  I sure do miss my sweet girl dearly.

Bon Appetit, my friends.

Coconut-Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 tsp. coconut extract
10 oz. semi-sweet chocolate morsels
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate morsels
1 cup shredded, sweetened coconut

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

Combine the flour and baking soda in a medium bowl and whisk together.  Set to the side.

In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, add the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar.  Cream these ingredients on medium speed until they are nice and fluffy.  Add the salt, egg and coconut extract.  Mix on low speed until well combined.

Add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl, and mix on medium speed just until blended...Don't over-mix!

Next, add the semisweet and bittersweet chocolates, along with the shredded coconut to the cookie dough.  Stir together well.

Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop out the dough and form into uniform balls.  Place the balls of cookie dough on the baking sheet, making sure not to crowd the cookies.

Place the baking sheet into the preheated oven, and bake the cookies for 13-14 minutes, or until they are a nice golden brown around the edges.

Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.  They are best a little warm, right out of the oven!

Repeat the baking process with the remaining cookie dough, until it's all gone.


Checking out her new little sis...

 Who eventually wasn't so "little" anymore  :)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lemony Salmon with Cherry Tomato Couscous

Some dishes just beg to be eaten.  This is one of those meals.

Upon first glance, the bright red cherry tomatoes, vibrant green cilantro, and pan seared salmon fillets nestled on top invite you in for a visual treat.  After you get past the pretty colors popping off the plate, the citrusy aromas from the lemon find their way to your nose.

Sounds pretty great, right?

Well, this dish is a treat both to look at and eat.  After all, the old adage rings true - We do indeed eat first with our eyes.

The flavor combinations here are splendid - whole wheat couscous, paprika, fresh ginger, red onion, lemon, cherry tomato, and cilantro are excellent partners for salmon, as it turns out.  This dish is bright and refreshing, while satisfying at the same time.

It's a healthy meal that will leave you with a full tummy and a happy smile.  :)

Bon Appetit!

Lemony Salmon with Cherry Tomato Couscous
Source:  foodnetwork.com
Adapted fromNigella Kitchen:  Recipes from the Heart of the Home, by Nigella Lawson

  • Heaping 1 cup couscous (I used whole wheat couscous)
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh gingerroot
  • 1 cup freshly boiled water
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 tablespoon garlic flavored oil, plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Put the couscous into a heatproof bowl, with 2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 teaspoon table salt), 1/4 teaspoon of the paprika, and all the grated ginger. Give everything a bit of a mix before adding the hot boiled water. Cover the bowl, either with plastic wrap or a plate, and set aside. 

Into another bowl, put the finely chopped onion.

In a wide, shallow dish, big enough to take the salmon fillets later, zest the lemon into the dish.

Squeeze the lemon juice into the bowl with the onions.

Add the remaining salt and the paprika to the bowl with the lemon zest and stir in 1 tablespoon garlic flavored oil.

Halve the cherry or grape tomatoes and put them into yet another bowl. Stir in the remaining teaspoon of garlic flavored oil and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan for the salmon fillets. While the pan is getting hot, add the fillets to the dish with the lemon zest and coat both sides with the mixture.

Put the fillets in the hot pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, depending on thickness. The fillets should be juicy and have a vivid coral color in the middle, so do check as you cook.

Meanwhile, uncover and fluff the couscous, which should have absorbed all the water. Add the tomatoes with lemony onion mixture and stir with a fork.

Add nearly all of the cilantro to the couscous, and stir it through, then taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.

Spoon some couscous onto each plate and arrange a salmon fillet alongside. Sprinkle with a little more cilantro as you hand out each plate.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Mixed Meat Pilaf with Pomegranate Seeds

the help of recipes like this one, leftovers can indeed be exciting!  Versatility is always great in the kitchen, and this dish from Nigella Lawson is a very versatile recipe that could be different every single time that you make it.  Often, I have left-over beef or chicken from the previous night, and this is the perfect way to incorporate those leftovers and give them new life. You can add any sort of meat that you have on-hand to this dish...sliced steak, chopped chicken, shredded beef, lamb, shrimp...so many possibilities!

The flavors of this dish are interesting and wonderful with the addition of pomegranate seeds.  I haven't really added them to dishes very much in the past, but I'm excited to find new ways to use them now.  The simplicity of this meal also makes it a flash to put together on a busy weeknight when the last thing you want to do is spend hours in the kitchen.

A distinct nuttiness is added by the toasted almonds, which helps to round out the flavors, and the parsley and cilantro add a freshness to the palate that dried herbs just can't compete with.

Give this robust and satisfying meal a try...You'll love it!

Bon Appetit!

Mixed Meat Pilaf

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion -- finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/4 cups basmati rice, or a mixture of brown basmati, red Camargue, and wild rice
2 cups chicken broth (can, carton or cube), preferably organic
2 cups cold shredded meat
salt and pepper, to taste
2-3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts or sliced almonds, or a mixture
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, to serve (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, to serve (optional)
2-3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, to serve (optional)


Warm the oil in a heavy-based saucepan which comes with a lid, then add the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes over a lowish heat, stirring frequently, before adding the cumin and coriander seeds and thyme, and cooking, as before, until the onion is soft;  this should be about another 5 minutes, giving 10 minutes cooking time in total.

Add the rice and push it about in the oily, spiced onion with a wooden spoon or rigid spatula until it is slicked and glossy. Heat the broth until almost boiling, then pour the hot broth into the pan and bring to a boil. Cover the pan firmly with a lid and cook over the lowest heat possible for 15 minutes for regular basmati rice, or up to 40 minutes for the 3-way rice mix. 

Add the shredded meat and fork it all through, then replace the lid and leave it all to cook for another 5 minutes to let the meat heat through and the rice finish cooking. 

Check that the meat is piping hot and the rice is tender, season to taste, then take off the heat and fork through most of the pine nuts, herbs, and pomegranate seeds (if using, or tip into a dish before doing this), and decorate each bowl of pilaf with the remaining bits.

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