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  • 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: September 2012

Heritage Harvest Festival and Monticello Garden Tour

Thomas Jefferson

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may know that I’m kind of an early American history nerd. Lucky for me, Virginia is rich with historical sites. I, along with some other Virginia bloggers, were recently invited to take a tour of Thomas Jefferson’s garden at Monticello (and even got to taste some of the food from it!) as part of the 6th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival. You may not know this about Jefferson, but he was a champion of sustainable agriculture. He experimented with different plants from other countries, beans from the Lewis and Clark expedition and was the first person to plant wine grapes here. Unlike most of his counterparts he ate a mostly vegetarian diet, most of which came from his own garden. He even grew sesame in an attempt to create a worthy salad oil. Today, the gardeners at Monticello work to showcase the garden as it was during Jefferson’s time.Monticello Gardens

During the Revolutionary Garden tour, we got an idea of things Jefferson would have grown and eaten during his time at Monticello. I learned that he collected seeds each year to save for the next season’s harvest, something the gardeners at Monticello continue to do. The best part of the tour was being able to pick lettuce and even flowers to add to our salads at lunch. I couldn’t help but feel a little giddy thinking about Jefferson walking through the garden and doing something similar. Our salads were topped with a salad dressing straight from Mary Randolph’s cookbook The Virginia Housewife, and I’ll be sharing the recipe soon. Our guides showed us all sorts of plants, but my favorite was the peanut plant. I’ve never seen a peanut plant before, and I love how it doesn’t give any clue as to what’s hiding underneath.Peanuts at Monticello

Food from Monticello Garden

While there, we also got to try cheeses from a local farm, several varieties of heirloom tomatoes and two different types of watermelon. I made the mistake of letting Clara try the watermelon, and she actually growled at me when I took it away! Just look at her face in this shot from the event. She also took a bite of tomato and then tried to grab the rest of it from my hand. I’m not going to lie – I think it’s pretty awesome that Clara has already gotten a taste, literally, of history, and I hope she grows up appreciating good food and the places it comes from.

As if all that wonderful food wasn’t enough, there was also plenty of lavender lemonade and Virginia cider and beer. If you haven’t tried hard cider, I definitely encourage you to do so. One of the varieties I tried was made from the Virginia Hewe’s Crab apple, a type that Jefferson himself grew and used to make cider.

Virginia Cider & Beer

After lunch, we saw a chocolate making demonstration and got to taste hot chocolate made using a colonial-era recipe. This recipe is quite simple and includes ground chocolate and water. That’s it! Chocolate made during that time was infused with orange, vanilla, chili pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg, and each of those flavors came through in the drink. Colonial Americans didn’t enjoy chocolate the same way we do today. Rather than eating it, they drank it, much like we drink coffee now. Can you imagine having a glass of hot chocolate with breakfast or dinner? Since the colonists were rebelling against Britain and therefore its tea, chocolate became a symbol of the revolution. Jefferson believed that drinking chocolate would surpass coffee and tea in popularity. While that may not be the case, chocolate has firmly rooted itself in our everyday lives.

Historic Chocolate

I’d like to give a big thanks to all the people that hosted and participated in this wonderful event, especially Lisa from the Thomas Jefferson Foundation who was incredibly helpful when I had my hands full with Clara (and a diaper bag and a camera and event packets). If you’re in or near Virginia, you should definitely check out the festival next year. Many thanks to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, American Heritage Chocolate, Albermarle Ciderworks, Starr Hill Brewery and Caromont Farm.


Boozy Chocolate Bourbon Bundt Cake

Boozy Chocolate Bundt Cake
When I was preparing for Big Summer Potluck, I was so excited about making a dish to share with fellow food bloggers that I had a hard time deciding which recipe to choose. This one had been on my to-make list for a while, and seeing all the tweets leading up to BSP3 made me realize a boozy cake would go over quite well with the people attending.

Bundt cakes might not be the most glamorous, but don’t underestimate this one. It’s rich with chocolate and infused with espresso and a whole cup of bourbon. The cake isn’t overly sweet, and this isn’t one of those times the alcohol cooks out. Our kitchen smelled so good while this was baking that we could barely resist cutting a slice as soon as it came out of the oven. I can tell you with certainty that it’s better the day after baking, once the booze has had a chance to mellow out, but I won’t judge you if you want to indulge in a slice straight out of the oven. I’ve only made this with bourbon, but you could also give it a try with another type of whiskey. Either way, make sure you use something you’d be willing to drink. Because of the amount of it in the cake, don’t risk compromising the flavor with something subpar.

Boozy Chocolate Bundt Cake

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Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Crumble Topping

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Crumble Topping
One of the greatest things I’ve discovered regarding food is how memories can be so closely tied to it. I don’t have many memories of growing up in the kitchen, but I hope Clara will have them one day. The kitchen memories I do have were created in more recent years, and one of my favorites involves cooking when my blogging friends came to visit. That day was the epitome of a perfect day for me, and I will never forget how I felt at that moment. Even seven months later, I still get teary-eyed when I think about it.

Since it was a cold and snowy day, we decided (after too much time spent browsing through cookbooks) to make this pot pie. I think we ended up eating dinner sometime around 10pm, and we stayed up way too late that night talking and laughing. A couple weeks ago, I made this recipe again and was immediately taken back to that perfect evening – the cameras snapping, all of us seamlessly working together in the kitchen, the chilly weather, Lonely Island videos and the feeling of pure joy. Eric and I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about how we all were wondering what the heck the recipe was referring to when it mentioned “fond” (it’s browned bits, by the way). I think I will always remember them and that night anytime I make this recipe. Food is powerful like that. When I made this, I was using food in another powerful way – to bring comfort to someone. It’s amazing to me what a home cooked meal can do to lift someone’s spirits.

If telling you four food bloggers went crazy over this isn’t enough to convince you to make it, I don’t know what is. This recipe begins with chicken thighs that are poached in broth, and then the broth is combined with a roux to make a rich and flavorful sauce. In order to keep the vegetables from becoming overcooked, they’re sautéed separately and added to the sauce prior to baking. The biscuit topping is the real surprise of this recipe and deserves mentioning. Essentially, a biscuit dough is made, crumbled into pieces and then baked before being used to top the pot pie. I’ll be honest with you and say that I’ve had a hard time resisting these tasty little biscuit bites both times I’ve had this. Eric is convinced that we should start making biscuits this way to have for weekday breakfasts.

The recipe calls for a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, but I successfully made it in two smaller dishes (one to keep and one to give). You can also turn this into a make ahead meal by by making the filling and refrigerating it in the baking dish. If making the topping a day early, as well, store it in an airtight container. Bake the filling for about 30-35 minutes (assuming it’s straight out of the refrigerator), then top it with the biscuit crumble and continue baking until the filling is heated through and the crumble is lightly browned, about 15 additional minutes.

Chicken Pot Pie with Biscuit Crumble Topping

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Chipotle Lime Chicken Fajitas

Chipotle Lime Chicken Fajitas

As summer comes to a close, I see so many people talking about firing up the grill one last time. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it makes more sense to grill when it’s not 110º outside. Summer grilling is great, minus the heat, humidity and fact that you’re drenched in sweat by the time the food is ready to be eaten. I see no reason not to grill year round, as long as there’s still good food to grill. Sure, pumpkin doesn’t lend itself to grilling the same way summer squash does, but that doesn’t mean you can’t grill chicken, steak or even sweet potatoes and acorn squash. Now that evenings are cooler here, it’s prime time for grilling. Luckily for us, grilled chicken doesn’t really have a season, and we’ll be grilling well into the winter with recipes like this one.

I’ve tried quite a few chicken fajita recipes, and this one is by far my favorite. The chicken stays ultra moist and is infused with smoky chipotle and fresh lime juice. Combine that with caramelized onions and peppers, and you’ve got fajitas to rival any restaurant’s. If you don’t feel like grilling, you could totally get away with making these in a cast-iron skillet to really make it feel authentic. As far as toppings go, forget them. I know just chicken and vegetables seems kind of boring, but these fajitas are far from it. I was planning to add sour cream and shredded cheese to mine, and I’m so glad I didn’t. These are perfect on their own, but you can certainly add a couple of frozen mango margaritas to go with your meal.

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Lemon Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

Lemon Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing
I always find myself lusting after gorgeously decorated sugar cookies. Even though I consider myself pretty skilled when it comes to decorating cakes and cupcakes, cookies are not really my thing. Or I guess I should say they weren’t my thing. After baking and decorating (with Eric’s help) nearly 300 of them, I feel pretty confident that I can try more complicated techniques in the near future. Even though it involved baking at night after Clara went to sleep and staying up way too late to decorate them, I’m definitely ready to do it again.

You may be wondering why on earth I made so many cookies, and it’s for a very special reason. My sorority, Alpha Xi Delta, recently formed a chapter at VCU. Their recruitment was a couple weeks ago, and an entire day was dedicated to philanthropy. The puzzle piece cookies were made to match the logo for Autism Speaks, an organization that Alpha Xi Delta has been partnering with since 2009. While enjoying these cookies, women heard stories of how Alpha Xi Deltas all across the country are helping to raise awareness and funds for Autism Speaks. The VCU chapter recently started working with a bowling league for children with autism, and that’s just one of event of many that they’ll be participating in and/or hosting this year.

I was nervous about making cookies for so many people, but I’m happy to report that they were a huge success. Unlike standard sugar cookies, these have a dose of lemon zest and vanilla bean that makes them much more flavorful. Since the icing is nothing more than confectioners’ sugar, meringue powder and water, it’s important that the cookies have a lot of flavor. There are plenty of variations on traditional sugar cookies, but I’m quite sure this one is my favorite. The entire downstairs of our house smelled amazing while these were baking, so much so that Eric commented on the last night that he was going to miss our house smelling like a bakery.

Lemon Vanilla Bean Sugar Cookies with Royal Icing

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