Cook Like a Champion bio picture
  • Have a Spooky Halloween!

    Cheddar Witches Fingers - Cheese straws in the shape of fingers, complete with a black almond "finger nail." Delicious and totally spooky.

    Candy Apples - You don't need to go to the fair to get my favorite treat because you can make these at home. Black food coloring gives them a festive touch.

    Pumpkin Caramel Sauce - Having a not-so-scary Halloween party? Serve ice cream with this pumpkin infused caramel sauce on top.

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad
Even though it’s only Monday, I know this week is going to be a crazy one. With a week to go until Baby C is due to arrive, last-minute preparations have taken over my life. I know people say you can never be truly ready for a child, but I want to be as prepared as possible. This means lots of cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning and crafting. Since Eric will be taking off two weeks once our little girl gets here, I knew I needed to find a few lunch recipes to have on hand. I didn’t want us to eat sandwiches or leftovers (assuming we have them) every day, but I was having trouble thinking of what I might want to eat. Eric suggested pasta salad, and I was sold.

The weather has been unseasonably warm around here, and this recipe immediately jumped out at me as something I would enjoy in the spring or summer. I decided to make it this week so we could give it a try before Baby C arrives, and I’m so glad I did! It made an excellent lunch, and it’s something that we can easily throw together while we’re adjusting to parenthood. I love sun-dried tomatoes and was intrigued by their use in this recipe. Not only are they chopped up and put into the salad, they’re also the base of the dressing. The dressing has a bit of kick to it thanks to the red wine vinegar and a bit of saltiness from the capers. This salad was light and refreshing and reminded me of summer. I made a few changes to the recipe to suit our personal tastes. Since neither of us are big fans of olives, I omitted them completely. I added a shallot and slightly increased the amount of pasta. One thing we both noticed while eating this was that there was a lot of cheese and tomatoes and not that much pasta. I think adding a little more really helped balance out the salad, and I’ve reflected my changes below. Once we finish this batch, we will definitely be making another one to have when the baby arrives.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pasta Salad

Get the recipe »

Surprise Weekend with Blogging Friends

Like I mentioned last week in my virtual shower post, I recently had a surprise visit from three of my blogging friends – Annie, Josie and Tara. Unbeknownst to me, their visit had been in the works for a couple of months. Eric had been emailing with them since just before the new year, and I was none the wiser. Here’s the story of how my husband and three friends pulled off the biggest surprise ever on the girl who was once impossible to surprise.

In late January, Eric mentioned to me that he had a surprise lined up for me the second weekend in February, “just some time to relax before the baby arrives.” He would’ve kept it secret, he said, but he knew I’d been scheduling hospital classes and planning various projects for us on the weekends. Plus, he wanted me to be able to find an outfit and knew I would need some time (maternity clothes shopping is pretty low down on my list of favorite things about pregnancy). I asked all kinds of questions in an attempt to figure out what his plan was, but he was steadfast in not giving me any clues. He did tell me part of the weekend involved dinner at our favorite Richmond restaurant, Julep’s. I just knew it was only a matter of time before I figured out the rest of his plans. I excitedly emailed Annie, Josie, Tara and Elly (who couldn’t come but was in on the surprise) and told them how sweet Eric was to plan something and how I had no clue what it might be. I even mentioned to them how good I am at asking just the right questions (read: manipulating ;)) and how I would totally be able to find out what the big surprise was. I feel pretty silly for saying that now! Since we have an ongoing email thread, the topic popped up a few more times. They must’ve been laughing to themselves as they read my emails in the time leading up to their trip, and they were all careful to be just interested enough without asking too many questions. At one point, I expressed my concern that someone might be coming to visit and how our house wasn’t yet ready for visitors. We haven’t been in our new house that long, and it’s not even fully unpacked. This bothered me more than it should have, and apparently my mention of it made the girls think I had figured out their plans.

February rolled around, and all I could think of was our dinner reservations at Julep’s. Things have been pretty crazy with us trying to settle into our new house and get ready for a baby, so I was insanely excited about a night out with Eric. When we walked into the restaurant, Eric slyly stood in exactly the right spot to prevent me from seeing my friends at a nearby table. When the hostess walked us to the table, I was beyond shocked to see Annie, Josie and Tara there waiting for us. I recognized them, of course, but my brain was not at all prepared to see them in such an unfamiliar setting. Then, in a very underwhelming display of emotion, I said hi. I think it’s the only word my mind could muster with the thoughts that were racing through my head. Three of my best friends, who all live very far away from Richmond, were sitting at a table in my favorite restaurant. They were there for me. They had traveled and taken time away from their families and important things all so they could be here to celebrate Baby C. I was too overwhelmed to cry at that moment, but I’ve definitely cried about it a few times since then (including while writing this post). I can’t think of a time in the recent past that I’ve felt so much kindness and love from someone other than Eric. It was truly breathtaking.

At dinner, we talked as if we’d all just seen each other. Honestly, I was still so stunned that I barely remember specific conversations. I do remember that everyone loved their dinner. Eric and I ordered fried green tomatoes and a cheese plate for everyone to share. Julep’s pimiento cheese and house-made crackers are divine, and I can never turn down their fried green tomatoes. Josie and Tara both had the pork porterhouse with spoon bread, and Annie and Eric both got the grilled pork shank over white cheddar grits. I had one of the specials, seared scallops with some type of wilted greens. It was an excellent meal, and I’m glad Eric chose it as our meeting place. You can never go wrong with upscale southern cuisine. Eric left before us to go home and pack a bag for me so that I could stay at the hotel with the girls for the weekend. We stayed up way too late talking Friday night. Saturday morning, we had brunch and the baby shower at Lulu’s. The girls all ordered shrimp and grits, but I opted for the biscuit and gravy. I could barely eat because I was pretty much in disbelief that they had planned all of this to celebrate Baby C, and it was all I could do not to cry at the restaurant. I should mention that while we were out, Eric was busy at home putting the final touches on the baby’s dresser and cleaning up the disaster I had left in the kitchen from making cake the day before. Yeah, he’s awesome.

We spent the rest of the day perusing Penzey’s and For the Love of Chocolate. Four food bloggers in a chocolate shop is certainly a site to see. The girls were snapping cell phone pictures (something I would’ve been doing except for the fact that it was very crowded, making it hard for this very pregnant lady to maneuver). All of us were wide-eyed as we looked at different chocolates, candies, and all the flavors of truffles and fudge in the case. When we got back to the hotel, Richmond got its first snow of the season. It was like a fairytale for me. We then drove to my house and looked at cookbooks until we decided what to make for dinner. After a coffee and grocery run, we came back and made this fab pimiento cheese dip and a hearty chicken pot pie with a genius biscuit crumble topping from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. We all worked on different tasks, and there was no feeling of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Being able to cook a meal with the girls was such an amazing, almost surreal, experience. After dinner, we attempted to make a Nutella pound cake that turned out to be a massive fail. The inside was so undercooked that when we turned it out of the pan, my fingers got burned when they pressed through the cooked outer layer and into the hot batter. It was not a pretty sight, and it’s never good to feel like you’ve wasted ingredients, especially when one of those ingredients is an entire jar of Nutella. What are the chances that four food bloggers mess up a pound cake?! Upon reading reviews of the recipe, we found several others had the same problem. Thankfully, I still had a few slices of Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake in the refrigerator, so we didn’t have to go without dessert. We stayed up talking until almost 4am and then went back to the hotel.

We got up way too early the next morning, and I was so sad to see everyone go. Tara drove all the way here from Connecticut and needed to hit the road. Josie and Annie had a plane to catch, so Eric and I dropped them off at the airport. I know I said goodbye too quickly, but only because I was barely holding it together at that point. I started crying as soon as we drove away. That weekend will go down as one of the best ones I’ve ever had. I’m still just stunned at the love and generosity of my friends, and I don’t even feel special enough to have received it. We moved away from Alabama four and a half years ago, and the only family members that have come to visit us in that time are my sister, brother in law, niece and nephew. The fact that I mean so much to these friends that they would travel here to see me and then throw a baby shower on top of that means the world to me. I know like anything I say will sound empty when compared with how I feel. I’m incredibly lucky to have them as friends, and I don’t know what I would do without them.

*All the pictures in this post came from Annie, Josie and Tara. The fact that we only got one decent group shot should tell you how much fun we were having. Also, the fact that I took no pictures when I normally have a camera attached to my eyeball speaks volumes about the type of weekend we had. Sometimes it’s better to savor the moments instead of trying to capture them.

Chocolate Chip Scones

Chocolate Chip Scones

I’m a sucker for breakfast foods. I know I’ve mentioned before how Eric and I often start our weekend mornings with a special breakfast (you know, something more involved than cereal or a smoothie). With less than two weeks until our little girl’s arrival and an ever-growing to-do list, this has sadly not been the case as of late. Instead of leisurely mornings, we jump right into our projects almost immediately after waking up. So when it snowed here Sunday night and Eric found out his office would have a delayed opening, I jumped at the chance to make us breakfast Monday morning. I was already planning to make some scones to freeze before the baby gets here, so I got to make us a delicious breakfast and cross something off my to-do list. Double win.

I’m a huge fan of scones, especially of the sweet variety. Eric loves any breakfast item that has chocolate chips in it, so I knew we’d both enjoy these. They’re actually not as sweet as you might think. The recipe only uses ¼ cup of sugar, allowing the dark chocolate to really come through. These are rich in flavor, tender in texture and absolutely delicious. A liberal sprinkling of demerara sugar makes them look like they’re straight from a pastry case, and I know we’ll be happy to have such a nice breakfast treat when we’re sleep deprived new parents.

The recipe recommended using pastry flour for an ultra-tender texture, but I used a mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour with great success. You can certainly use only all-purpose if that’s what you’ve got on hand.

Chocolate Chip Scones

Get the recipe »

Our Virtual Baby Shower

I’m so excited to be sharing this post with you today because it gives me the chance to tell you what a wonderful group of friends I have. I’ve mentioned before how important my blogging friends are to me, and this couldn’t be more evident than it is right now. Whenever I think about how special these ladies are to me, I’m reminded of a sorority T-shirt that was popular when I was in college. It said, “From the outside looking in, you could never understand it. From the inside looking out, we could never explain it.” That pretty much describes how I feel, and I think the only people that really get it are other bloggers (and perhaps their spouses). I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several of the girls participating, and I am so lucky to call them friends. Even the ones I haven’t met feel like old friends to me. I am so honored that all of these girls took the time to make a special dish for us and Baby C.

To top it off, I was surprised last weekend when Eric and I got to our favorite restaurant only to discover my friends Annie, Josie and Tara there waiting for us. They came into town for the weekend and even had a shower for me. They had been planning this trip with Eric since before the new year (stay tuned for a post about their visit!). If that isn’t a perfect example of blogging friends turning into real friends, I don’t know what is.

Before I get too sappy, I just want to thank you all for letting Eric and I share this wonderful time in our lives with all of you. And a million thanks to the amazing ladies that made dishes to celebrate our upcoming arrival, especially Josie, who was kind enough to organize the entire thing. :) As is always the case with posts like this, seeing all the pictures makes me wish even more that we could do this in person. Thank you, thank you, thank you. It means the world to me.

Josie of Pink Parsley and I shared a room together at BlogHer Food last year. We got to see each other again for a quick lunch when Eric and I were traveling through Atlanta on our way home from Christmas in Alabama. Little did I know that they were secretly planning Josie’s visit when I wasn’t at the table. Sneaky! Josie made Crab and Brie Stuffed Mushrooms. Stuffed mushrooms were my gateway into liking mushrooms, and you really can’t go wrong when they’re stuffed with crab and Brie.

Annie of Annie’s Eats and I met for the first time over Labor Day weekend last year, but I feel like we’ve been friends forever. She was the third person (after myself and Eric) to find out about Baby C. I emailed her probably less than 5 minutes after I found out, and she emailed me back one of the most excited emails I’ve ever gotten. She made Okra Cornmeal Cakes with Chévre and Roasted Tomatoes. Being from the south, I love okra. This looks much healthier than the fried kind, and I love the combination of it with the Chévre and roasted tomatoes.

goat cheese stuffed chicken meatball crostini
I have yet to meet Elly of Elly Says Opa, but I know it won’t be long until I do. Before she and I were really friends, Eric and I used to joke at how he had a blog crush on her because every single recipe we made from her blog was such a huge hit. I know Eric is happy that she opened my eyes to the fabulousness of chicken thighs, too. She made Goat Cheese-Stuffed Chicken Meatball Crostini. Goat cheese is my favorite cheese, and I know I would’ve eaten several of these had this shower happened in person. Seriously, how awesome does this combination sound?

I got to meet Shanon of The Curvy Carrot when I was in Indianapolis visiting Annie. She doesn’t live there anymore, but I lucked out because she was in town the same weekend I was. Shanon has a vegetarian blog, and, even though I’m not a vegetarian, I always find myself saving recipes from it. She made Mushroom and Mascarpone Tarts. I love tarts, and these look elegant and sound fabulous.

Amy of Gastronome Tart and I met last year when she moved to Richmond. We had a great time hanging out and chatting about food, blogging and all sorts of other things. Cool fact about her: she’s a beekeeper. She lives in another part of Virginia now, but I can’t wait to see her again and introduce her to Baby C (and get some honey ;)). She made Savory Apple Galettes , and I wish she still lived nearby so that I could’ve had one.

Amy of Sing for Your Supper just had a baby girl a couple weeks ago. I was so excited when I found out our due dates weren’t far apart, and I imagine we’ll be talking a lot about our baby girls. She made Virgin Peach Blood Orange Sangria. It’s no secret that I love wine, and I won’t lie and say I haven’t missed it. I wish I had seen this recipe months ago because it looks fabulous! I’m definitely making this one soon.

Kelsey of Apple a Day is one of the sweetest people I know. I just adore her, and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get to meet her one of these days. She made Raspberry White Chocolate Tartlets, which look perfect for a baby shower. Eric and I both love raspberries, especially when they’re paired with white chocolate.

Shawnda of Confections of a Foodie Bride lives in Texas and makes me wish I still did. Eric and I love Tex-Mex food and margaritas, and I’m pretty sure Shawnda is the margarita queen. She also does other cool things like garden and brew beer and make wine. I know we’d be great friends if we lived closer together. She made these adorable Pink Grapefruit Cookies. I love citrus in any form, and these delicate cookies look like the perfect way to showcase it.

I feel like I’ve known Nikki of Pennies on a Platter for such a long time. She’s so thoughtful and was especially helpful when I was making the switch to my new blog design. She made Cream Puffs Filled with Strawberries and Mascarpone. I love cream puffs, and the combination of them with strawberries and mascarpone sounds absolutely delightful.

I got to meet Karin of This Wife Bakes at BlogHer Food last year. She is hip and so much fun, and she’s also an insanely talented cake decorator. If I lived in Atlanta, I would pay her to give me some one-on-one lessons. She made this Blood Orange Marmalade Cake, and I so wish I could have a slice. Like I said, I love citrus. I’m not sure why I’ve never put it in a cake before, but that will be changing very soon.

I got to meet Tara of Smells Like Home last year at BlogHer Food. We had such a fantastic time hanging out, and I was so happy I got to see her again last weekend! She drove all the way here from Connecticut, and didn’t flinch when we stayed up until 4am the night before (technically, the day) she had to drive back. She made Sweet and Salty Cupcakes, which are the ideal dessert for me because my cravings right now quickly change from sweet to salty and back again. Eating one of these would certainly satisfy both.

Branny of Branny Boils Over and I got to meet at BlogHer Food last year. She’s hilarious, and I had such a fabulous time hanging out with her. While we were there, she tried Nutella for the first time when we were out to breakfast one day. The rest of us were shocked that she’d never eaten it, and we practically told her she had to try it right that second. That’s why I was so happy when I saw she made Nutella Swirl Blondies. Really, there’s no way to go wrong when Nutella is involved.

Ryan of Ryan Bakes and I met last year. She’s another Richmond food blogger, and it’s been awesome to have someone nearby who understands the craziness that is food blogging. We’ve had many laughs over blog-related topics, and I’m excited that she’ll get to meet Baby C soon. She made Strawberry Shortcake Sliders, which are so cute and perfect for a shower. I love strawberries and know I would devour these.

Cate of Cate’s World Kitchen is always inspiring me. Her blog is one of the first vegetarian blogs I started reading, and she’s constantly introducing me to new foods and recipes. She lives near San Francisco, which holds a special place in my heart since Eric and I spent part of our honeymoon there. She made Pink Lemonade Cupcakes. I spent the last year working at a cupcake shop, so cupcakes are high on my list of favorite treats. I love citrusy sweets and would have a hard time eating just one of these.

Thank you all again for making this so special for me, Eric and our baby girl. I’m lucky to have such a wonderful (and talented!) group of friends.

Nutella (Chocolate Hazelnut) Mousse

Nutella Mousse

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m sure most of you have figured out your Valentine’s dessert plans, but I wanted to share this last-minute idea for those that haven’t. Dessert on Valentine’s doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. This dessert, which I purposefully saved for today, has only four ingredients and can be made in just a few minutes. This recipe is so simple that anyone (seriously, anyone) can throw it together. If it’s so easy and has so few ingredients, you must be questioning how it tastes. The answer? It’s awesome! You don’t need many ingredients when the ingredients are cream, Nutella, espresso and hazelnuts.

This recipe is what I like to refer to as cheater’s mousse. I’ve made cooked chocolate mousse before. In fact, it was my very first post way back in August 2008. At the time, this cheater’s mousse would’ve been a more appropriate dessert, skill-wise, for me to tackle. There’s obviously some irony that I’m posting this easy version now, when my skill level is so much higher. The reason I wanted to share it is because it tastes so darn good. It’s light and airy just like its more involved counterpart. The flavor is rich and chocolaty without being heavy, and the espresso adds just the right amount of coffee flavor. This is a dessert that won’t leave you feeling like you had too much to eat, which makes it perfect for ending a heavier dinner. Even if you don’t make this tonight, it’s a great recipe to have on hand when a chocolate craving strikes.

Nutella Mousse

Get the recipe »