6 Year Bloggiversary

Dang, guys.  It doesn’t feel like a whole year has passed since I wrote my five-year-bloggiversary post, but here we are.  SIX WHOPPING YEARS of blogging under my belt.  Last year, I reminisced on starting the blog and how over the past five years my blog has become my wing man of sorts.  A support system, really.  A crutch.  Who woulda guessed year six would be one for the record books?

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I had a few cool media spotlights this year, including being listed as one of Charlotte’s 16 food accounts to follow on Instagram on Charlotte Agenda, and a fun introduction on #weloveclt written by my pal Vanessa Smith Have you met Mary Cowx?

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I was also selected as a Design Charlotte Influencer and got to talk all about how cool Charlotte is in this video:

My most popular post over the last 365 days was my Buffalo Chicken Dip recipe (originally posted in 2010, most popular blog post, six years running), dangit… Followed closely by my Charlotte Foodie Guide and this HIGHLY informative post on how to make leftover pizza taste like it was just delivered.

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Cheesy Marsala-Glazed Meatloaf {recipe}

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf v2

When I was a kid, I loved ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches.  I’m not talking about grilled cheesy goodness dunked in ketchup, here; this was two pieces of Home Pride, a single slice of Kraft American, and a heavy-handed squiggle of Heinz 57.  I was obsessed with ketchup.  Ketchup made everything better.  Although both parents deny preparing said ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches for us kids and my sister says the thought of such a sandwich “makes her want to hurk,” there’s no denying that ketchup was the star ingredient in my mom’s meatloaf.  I was, of course, meatloaf’s number one fan.  Just the word “meatloaf” takes me back to those days, standing in the kitchen, watching my mom transform a mound of ground beef into a perfect oval with rapid two-handed pats before she iced the whole thing with ketchup and tossed it into the oven.  It killed me that meatloaf took so long to cook.  An hour?!  Really, Mom?  And then, as we (finally) sat down to eat, I’d silently start hoping for leftovers, because the only thing better than Mom’s meatloaf was a cold, leftover meatloaf-and-ketchup sandwich the next day.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf

Now that I’m all old and mature, my ketchup-and-cheese sandwich has been upgraded to a crusty baguette with hunks of gooey brie, and a taste for wine has replaced my craving for all things ketchup.  And meatloaf?  Well, I still love it, and this cheesy Marsala-glazed meatloaf recipe puts a classy spin on the nostalgic meal.  It’s still got ketchup (as all good meatloaves do), but this one has hunks of gooey, white cheddar cheese and is dressed with a sweet wine glaze.  It tastes indulgent and traditional all at once, and it’s a dinner both kids and adults will enjoy.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf - 3 v2

Dry Marsala wine is fantastic in this recipe (I used Colombo Fine Dry Marsala Wine, which has hints of vanilla and raisin).  The meatloaf can be prepared a day ahead and stored covered in the fridge for a hearty, low-stress meal the next day.

Marsala Glazed Meatloaf - 5

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Topical Taters {IFBC 2013}

I remember eating mashed potatoes on the sunporch at my friend Allison’s house.  We were sitting cross-legged on the floor, huddled around a wicker coffee table, our plates just inches from our mouths.  There was other food, I’m sure, chicken or maybe meatloaf or some other forgotten piece of protein I’d pushed to the side to make room for the Halasa family mashed potatoes.  I’d started with a mountain of them, yellow from the excessive butter content and so dense they required I carry the paper plate two-handed to our roost at the kids’ table.

Sitting there on the floor with my girlfriends, I momentarily admired the mass on my plate, eager and anxious, before bringing one mounding forkful of those creamy, lumpless potatoes to my mouth.  I delicately slid the fork mashed taters between my lips, twitterpated as my eyes squeezed closed and the warmth of the potatoes coated my tongue and throat.  After each bite, I’d drag the edge of my fork over the potatoes, smoothing out the craters, like a Zamboni methodically perfecting the surface of an ice rink.

Moderation was a mystery to me, and each swallow brought me simultaneous pleasure and nausea; I was powerless to the potatoes.  Forget meat sweats, I was fighting carb-induced hysteria.  As I battled my inner ever-present demons of gluttony, I placed my fork on the table, letting my fingers linger on the warm metal while the internal turmoil waged on.  Abruptly, I jerked my fingers away from the fork and scooped up the remaining mashed potatoes with a cupped right hand.  I brought them to my mouth, hesitating for just a moment at my lips, questioning and confused, when a brash flash of clarity zapped through my mind and I quickly and swiftly smeared the mashed potatoes across my right cheek, followed immediately by a scoopful slathered across the left.  It was fast, like an impatient father slapping sunscreen on a squirming toddler, and when I lifted my potato-masked face I found two silent, slightly horrified teenage girls staring at me.

Unlike most people, when I say something is so good, I want to smear it all over my face, I’m speaking from hands-on experience.  I know exactly what it takes to trigger that sort of primal action.  I know the complete lack of self-control delicious food can cause.  I know what potatoes can do to a girl.


Of all the sessions at the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference, my favorite was Kim O’Donnel’s interactive writing workshop, which focused on breaking through writer’s block by reminding us that we all have something to write about, the trick is starting small-scale.  We started with “I remember” and then rapidly jotted down as many memories as we could conjure over the course of three minutes.  “I remember eating mashed potatoes on the sunporch at my friend Allison’s house” was one of many memories on my list, and I’m so happy to finally have this specific memory written on the blog.

I would like to send one last HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC!  Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.


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My first roast chicken

I thought about doing it for months.  It’s just one of those things — a kitchen right of passage of sorts — that everyone has to do (at least once).  Of course, I didn’t want to do it just to do it–I wanted it to be the juiciest most flavorful chicken EVER.  So, I researched.  To truss or not to truss?  Butter on the skin or under?  Which herbs?  Breast side up or breast side down?  I had this feeling in my gut that I was on the road to cosmic alignment—that somehow I’d channel the kitchen gods and miraculously stumble upon the “secret” to the perfect bird that I could then share with my friends and family and all those other folks on the interweb.

my first roast chicken

In actuality, the fact that I’d mustered the courage to even attempt roasting a whole chicken was somewhat of a miracle.  Of all the meat phobias I’ve fostered over the years, chicken is the one animal that consistently causes me to question being a carnivore.  Just the words “chicken skin” make my upper lip curl.  So when I picked up the whole bird at Whole Foods, one handed, like I was palming a basketball, and felt the bird’s ribs, solid under a squishy layer of skin and flesh, I nearly gave up on the whole idea.  I nearly gave up on eating meat, for that matter.  Yes, my resolve was tested at the meat case and again, later that day, when it was time to give the bird its last bath.  I used tongs to discard the white bag of parts-that-shall-not-be-named, but I had no kitchen contraption large enough to hold the carcass under the cold running water, that is, of course, except for my hands.  As I rinsed the cavity out, I waited for the water to fill the bird to the tippy top, like a drinking glass does when you’re washing it, and it took me a minute or two to realize my approach was faulty due to the GIANT HOLE in the other end where the animal’s head and neck once were.  I had a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.  A hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

I put the buttered bird in the oven, lemon rind and rosemary peeking out between the legs, and got to washing my hands (and arms) for the 57th time.  my first roasted chicken

When all was said and done, the chicken turned out ok.  Not miraculous, but glistening brown and cooked all the way through.  (Success.)  And I realized, as I was eating it, that perhaps the reason I’d never roasted a whole chicken wasn’t because of my kitchen inferiority complex;  I just don’t like chicken.

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Easy Black Bean Burritos {recipe}

A funny thing happened the other day.

I went to a sausage making class and emerged three hours later a fleeting vegetarian.

Bring on the beans and cheese.

Easy Black Bean Burritos

Of course, I expected a slightly different outcome when I signed up for the class.  Visions of grinding my own meat and hand-stuffing thick chicken, turkey, and pork sausages filled my thoughts while mounds of frozen links filled my fantasized freezer.  I was one excited sausageer – that is until I spent 3 hours huddled around fifty pounds of raw pork.  There was just so much meat and so many people and so much talk about the step-by-step process involved in getting the poor free range piggies from the farm to that fork you’re holding in your hand there.  And the smell…. oh dear god the smell.

I didn’t know it was possible to get the meat sweats without actually consuming meat.

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200 Calorie Tuna Salad Recipe

Growing up with divorced parents, my brother, sister, and I split our time between week nights at dad’s and weekends at mom’s.  Everyone once in a while, we’d have to flip flop our schedule, and it seemed when those rare occasions popped up both mom and dad had an unspoken urge to make them special.  On those weekends, dad would make breakfast:  dippy eggs, buttery toast, and his breakfast potatoes.  I do believe my love affair with potatoes started with these very ones around the age of eight.  Sure I’d take an egg and a small piece of toast, but the remainder of that 10-inch plate was devoted solely to those piping hot slightly crunchy potatoes and the biggest squirt of Heinz 57 my kid muscles could muster.  Recently, I texted my dad to finally, after all these years, ask what he put in his breakfast potatoes. (By the way, it still makes me giggle to think of him texting.)

His response?

“I dono.”

After our bodies worked through the haze of early morning overeating, dad would move on to lunch.  Lunches were varied, but one of my favorites were the tuna melts he’d make on cold days, rainy days, or days that otherwise demanded a comforting hot melty sandwich.  After the recent potato-text heartbreak, I didn’t bother asking dad what he put in those tuna melts.  Rather, I choose to focus solely on the memory:  jumbo kaiser rolls loaded with mayonnaise-laden tuna, hunks of fresh cheddar cheese, and chopped up dill pickles.  He’d wrap those giant sandwiches in foil and toss them right into the oven—no cookie sheet needed (which I remember wordlessly opposing).  After a half hour or so, he’d reach into the oven with a giant pot holder.  We’d line up, plates held tightly in our little hands, and dad would plop a massive foil pack on each one.

healthy tuna

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Pants-friendly Paella {recipe}

I vividly remember my mom sitting cross-legged in the pantry, furiously flipping through cookbooks and earmarked magazines, her disheveled auburn curls in disarray around her face as she searched for that one recipe she’d seen months ago and mentally filed away.  As far back as I remember, my mom was adventurous in the kitchen.  I helped her bake bread in recycled tin cans, wrinkled my nose as she savored caviar loaded crackers, and hesitantly obliged to mandarin oranges in our dinner salad (which was UNHEARD of at the time).  I remember raising my eyebrow and dramatically cocking my head to the side as she scraped this mysterious spaghetti squash onto her plate.  I gagged at the anchovies on her pizza, and I cried, yes cried, when she urged me to try her sushi.

Mom was always cooking something big, and when she made her Spanish paella she’d use this absurdly large dish–big enough to feed a family of four twice and a half over.  It took her hours to prep and cook the meal–well, at least it seemed that way to her teenage “mom, I swear to god I’m dying of starvation” daughter.

Pants Friendy Paella via Fervent Foodie

I hated peas and hated shrimp, but man did I love her paella.  How could I not with those huge hunks of sausage and pieces of chicken poking through the steaming bed of orange rice?

Pants Friendy Paella via Fervent Foodie

This is not my mom’s paella recipe because, according to her, she “doesn’t have one.”  Uh huh.  Surrrrrre mom.   This is my lightened-up version of paella, which uses chicken sausage rather than Spanish chorizo, simply because I wasn’t able to find any at the grocery store.  Traditional?  No.  Pants friendly?  Absolutely.

Pants-friendly Paella Recipe

Recipe inspired by my mom and Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Paella

Serves 8

  • 1.5lb chicken breast (cut into 1/2 inch chunks)
  • 3 Links hot chicken or turkey sausage (casings removed) (for more authentic flavor, use Spanish chorizo)
  • 2 cups yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 cup red bell pepper (diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley (chopped, plus extra for garnish)
  • 14oz can whole tomatoes (drained)
  • 2 cups short-grain brown minute rice
  • 2.5 cups fat-free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup dry white cooking wine
  • 1 large pinch Spanish saffron
  • 4oz shrimp (peeled, deveined)
  • 1 cup sweet peas (defrosted)
  • S&P (to taste)

Chicken rub

  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Note:  This pants-friendly paella uses chicken sausage. For a more authentic flavor, sub in a link or two of Spanish chorizo.  Spanish saffron can be quite expensive.  I’ve seen bottles for as little as $6 at Trader Joe’s, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls.

Step 1:  Combine chicken rub ingredients in a medium size bowl or large zip top bag. Add chicken breast, and toss or shake to coat evenly. Cover and marinate in the fridge for one hour.

Step 2:  Heat a large pot coated with cooking spray over medium high heat. Once hot, add the sausage. Break apart sausage with your spatula, and cook until no longer pink. Remove sausage from pot and set aside. Add additional cooking spray to pot, if needed, then add chicken pieces. Sear chicken on all sides then remove from pot and set aside.

Step 3:  Add onions, red pepper, garlic, and parsley to the pot, season with S&P, to taste, reduce heat to medium. Cook for 3 minutes, using your spatula to scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and crush with your spatula. Season with S&P. Add uncooked rice to the pot and stir to combine. Once the liquid is absorbed, add chicken broth and cooking wine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Step 4:  Add the sausage, chicken, and saffron to the pot and stir to combine. Add the shrimp, pushing them down into the rice. Simmer for 15 minutes then add the peas. Garnish with remaining parsley.

Per serving: 274 calories, 27g carbs, 4g fat, 31g protein, 3g fiber

 

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Sausage Stuffed Peppers

During my kid years, stuffed peppers were in the regular dinner rotation at my dad’s house.  I hated them.  My step mom would fill crisp green peppers with a beef mixture in the morning, pop them into the slow cooker with some tomato sauce, and when we got home in the evening we’d find the crunchy green peppers had been transformed into a slimy mushy mess.  Back then, I had deep-rooted hatred for lots of cooked veggies—carrots, celery, and tomatoes to name a few—but cooked green peppers took the medal for most loathed cooked vegetable.  To my young taste buds, cooked green peppers had this toxic unnatural taste to them—like they’d been marinating in a puddle of Windex for a few hours.  It just wasn’t right.  Luckily, peppers were pricy so my step mom was more than happy to make me a meatball sans pepper for dinner while the rest of the family subjected themselves to green pepper poisoning.  I love a good meatball.

To this day, I’m still not a huge fan of stuffed green peppers.  As I aged and grew wiser, I discovered that other types of peppers could be stuffed just as easily and infinitely more deliciously than green peppers ever could. 

Case in point:

Sausage Stuffed Peppers (10 of 11)

Some of my favorite peppers to stuff are banana peppers, cubanelles, and Anaheims.  I usually buy whichever variety is the biggest (i.e., most stuffable) at the grocery store that day.

 

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Pizza randomness

Soon after first meeting the BF, we bonded over our mutual love of cheesy niblets.  After perfecting our buffalo chicken dip recipe, we moved on to make THIS our favorite Friday night feast:

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As a kid, pizza was one of my favorite dinners. When mom or dad would come home exhausted from their days, too tired to cook, with just enough energy to utter the words “let’s just order pizza for dinner” my heart would pitter patter with excitement as an uncontrollable cheshire-cat style smile spread across my face.

Pizza was cause for celebration in my family, and back in the day I was a straight up pepperoni and cheese gal.

Red heart Pepperoni and Cheese Red heart

I remember the day I got my braces.  I was 13 years ripe, and I think my dad felt bad that I was in so much pain… Or perhaps he felt bad because he had just assisted in adding more metal to his poor teenage daughters head (as if my GIANT glasses were not enough).

So, in an attempt to cheer up his little girl, he decided we’d order pizza from our favorite hole in the wall pizzeria for dinner.  I remember opening that steaming box and seeing the thick pepperonis all curled up into little cups of grease heaven, and that amazing pizza smell that made the pain suddenly start to melt away.  I was so excited, so high from the pizza induced endorphins, that I grabbed a slice and chomped down without hesitation.

I remember the horror that immediately washed over me as I ripped my hand back from my mouth like a kid who’d just high-fived a hot stove as I burst into tears.  My newly bedazzled mouth was too sore to eat the pizza.  Too sore to enjoy the crunch of that buttery crust or the spice of the pepperoni.  Too sore to even nibble on the oozing cheese.  Through my tears, my dad and I painstakingly cut the pizza into pebble sized swallowable bites and I proceeded to toss them into my mouth followed by long swigs of Coke like a real pizza pill poppin addict.

Why was adolescence so cruel?!

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Yes… that just happened.

But let us focus on what’s important here.

Pizza.

It brings people together.

It puts a sparkle of happiness in your eyes and warm and fuzzies in your belly.

Heck, it even puts hair on your face.

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Hahahaha… That’s my nephew Dylan.  LOVE that pic.  He’s almost 13 now… and sadly, no longer a pirate.

I can count on one hand — strike that — one FINGER the number of people I’ve met in my life who did not adore pizza.  (crazy man, that Tim is)

Pizza is the jam.  The cat’s meow.  The shiznit, if you will.

A couple years back, my sister and I were brainstorming ideas for a Father’s Day present for our dad.  We decided we would take dad out to lunch to the restaurant of his choice.  Mexican or seafood or a big Italian feast.  Whatever his heart desired.

When we presented him with his present, he got a big smile of his face and then told us where he’d like to go.  10116_709197216164_23305880_41001277_853689_n

Cici’s Pizza Buffet.

Yes.

Sometimes all a father really wants is to pig out with his children at the pizza buffet Smile

I haven’t been to CiCis Pizza Buffet since then, which is very sad given how enamored I was with their macaroni and cheese pizza…  So wrong, but SO right!

When I was contacted a couple weeks back about doing a giveaway for Cici’s, I HAD to jump on it (in secret hopes that my one of my siblings will win a free pizza buffet for my pa, of course).

Here’s the scoop:  CiCi’s Pizza Family Funtacular summer scratch and win contest runs through August 28.  The scratch off tickets give you the opportunity to win movie tickets, family fun packs, children’s movie tickets, CiCi’s gift cards, free buffets, carry-out pizzas and beverages.

Oh man… my dad would LOVE LOOOOVE to win this….

Grand prize for two lucky families: an all-expense paid trip for four to Universal Orlando Resort Vacation…. Ok… Shut the front door!!!  Now I really REALLY hope one of my siblings win!

I have SIX scratch off tickets to give away, and I’ll send them ALL to the winner.  TWO ways to enter:  1.) leave a comment (or link) on this post with your favorite pizza topping or recipe AND 2.) Follow me on Twitter @Fervent_Foodie!

I’ll use a random # generator to select a winner Sunday at midnight!

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