I love surprises

Sunset in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Sunset in Fernandina Beach, Florida

You know those people who say “I don’t like surprises,” well, I’m not one of those people. I love surprises. My Mamma was the surprise queen. Over the years she planned surprises parties for me and she would always keep one special Christmas present as a surprise for that night. Some years she actually found Christmas presents months later that she had hidden away so I would even get a surprise well after the holiday.

Click here to skip to the recipe for Leighanne’s Tangy Pot Roast

My fiancé is also good at surprises, although he is one of those who claims not to like them himself. For my birthday this year we weren’t able to celebrate together on the day of my actual birthday. He surprised me later in the week, bringing me lunch to my office. One of the Arby’s bags he set down on the desk was our lunch, in the second bag was my birthday present! He and my mom often colluded to surprise me. For our two-year anniversary he got me a piece of jewelry I had seen while on vacation and really wanted. My mom helped him contact the shop and order the ring for me — a huge pink agate druzy. He showed up unexpectedly at my house two days before our anniversary with two dozen roses and the pink druzy ring. He really surprised me this past Christmas when he proposed. Though we had been together more than five years and had talked seriously about marriage, I still wasn’t prepared when he dropped to one knee and opened up that ring box.

A golden sunset in Florida | The Lush's Blush blog
Sunset in Fernandina Beach, Florida

My bridesmaids are also good at surprises. One of my bridesmaids, Amanda, lives in Texas and wasn’t able to be here for my bachelorette celebration at the wine festival. Instead she surprised me by sending me a hand-painted wine glass to use for the day. A few weeks ago my other two bridesmaids pulled off a pretty epic surprise. They had told me a few months ago that they were taking me to Charlotte for a spa weekend at the end of May. The day arrived and we piled in the car to head to Charlotte. As we passed through Charlotte I noticed that no one seemed to be paying attention to the directions and so I asked what exit we needed to get off.

“Oh, we have a while longer,” said Leighanne. A little while later when we were no longer even in North Carolina I said “ok, what have I missed.” The spa weekend had been a hoax all along and they we were really taking me for a beach weekend at Amelia Island in Florida!
My bridesmaid Leighanne’s sister has a place there and I had been to visit before. It is a beautiful place. Leighanne and Sarah said they were a little worried that I might be disappointed that I wasn’t going to be getting a massage and pedicure, but I wasn’t at all. Not that a spa weekend wouldn’t have been nice, but the beach trumps about everything in my book.

Cocktails in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Sipping on fun and fruity drinks in Fernandina

We had a great time relaxing on the beach and just enjoying each other’s company. Of course, eating some good food was also on our agenda at the beach. We enjoyed appetizers at a beach-side restaurant called Sliders and a really great meal at a little pub where we dined al fresco under beautiful live oaks draped with Spanish moss.

Leighanne also prepared us a great meal to enjoy the night before we left. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I love my Crock-pot. With just a little prep work you can have a meal simmering and cooking all day and ready when you arrive home. Most of the meals I typically prepare in a slow cooker are very rich, warm and comforting foods. As such, I tend not to use my Crock-pot as much in the summer when lighter fare is what’s more enjoyable.

Leighanne’s roast she prepared in the Crock-pot though was the perfect dish after a long day at the beach. Though the meat was hearty, there are lots of carrots in the recipe which give a nice summery flavor and she paired it with a lovely fresh green salad with fresh berries and goat cheese. Sometimes a typical winter comfort food like pot roast can surprise you with its deliciousness on even a hot summer day. Leighanne has graciously shared her recipe.

Leighanne’s Tangy Slow Cooker Pot Roast

• 1 boneless beef chuck roast, about 3 to 4 pounds
• 2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
• Salt and pepper
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cup beef broth
• 1/2 cup red wine, such as cabernet or pinot noir, or more beef broth
• 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
• 1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
• 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
• 1 large onion, quartered, sliced
• 6 large carrots or a bag of baby carrots
• 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Directions
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Generously sprinkle the roast all over with salt and pepper, then rub the paprika into all sides. Cook the roast for about five minutes on each side to brown. Meanwhile, combine the broth, wine, tomato sauce, vinegar, and honey; set aside. Put the sliced onions, carrots, and garlic in the bottom of a 5 to 7-quart slow cooker. Remove the roast from the heat and place it on the vegetables in the slow cooker. Pour the broth and wine mixture into the hot skillet and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits; pour over the roast in the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for one hour. Reduce to low and cook for 7 to 9 hours longer, or leave on high and cook for 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours.

Starlight dinner in Fernandina | The Lush's Blush blog
Starlight dinner in Fernandina
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Baked chicken jambalaya

Baked Chicken Jambalaya

When I’m feeling domestic and have enough time, I like to sit down and make out a menu and grocery list for an entire week. Some weeks I don’t have the wherewithal to figure out on a Sunday what I think I’ll want to eat the following Thursday, but when the mood strikes me to make a menu in advance it does seem to make life easier.

I like to get in my favorite chair, preferably with a glass of wine or a mimosa if I’m doing it in the morning, and surround myself with cookbooks and my recent pins from Pinterest and come up with a menu for the week.

Last week I was in such a mood and so I did manage to do some advance planning. One of the recipes I prepared this week was from one of my Mamma’s old cookbooks, actually one I had given her as a Christmas gift some years ago.

The cookbook is from famed Cajun cook Justin Wilson and it’s fun to read because he often includes little stories with the recipes.

As I often do, I put my own little spin on his recipe entitled Baked Chicken on a Sunday, cooked on a Tuesday ala Walter Guitreau. I made mine on a Wednesday so I guess now it’s  Baked Chicken on a Sunday, cooked on a Tuesday ala Walter Guitrea, actually cooked on a Wednesday by Kitsey. Whew, say that 10 times fast!

The recipe is essentially a baked jambalaya. Now, I’m going to warn you, this is a super simple recipe and yes, don’t judge, it does use canned soup. I know some of you (my fiance included) are snobbish about such recipes, but I’m not. They are easy to do, especially for mid-week meals.

Justin used bone-in chicken, but I cheated and chopped up some boneless chicken tenders for mine.

Combine 2 cups uncooked rice, diced chicken, a can of cream of mushroom, a can of cream of celery, two soup cans of milk and a package of dried onion soup mix in a 9×12 casserole dish.  I added a pinch or two of salt and a couple of healthy dashes of Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning as well. Mix it all up real good, cover with foil and bake for about an hour on 350. I like to take the foil off for about the last five minutes or so. I recommend buttering the bottom of the dish a bit too. I didn’t do that and mine got a little stuck in the bottom.

This would be great served with a nice green salad, but we just ate ours by itself and it was delish.

Weekly roundup

Here are a few fun things from the internet this week:

Wine pairings to go with everything in your life. This is a post from Martha Stewart via The Lush Life. Click the hyper linked life event to go to The Lush Life site for the full explanation of each wine pairing.

Photo reposted from MessyNessyChic.com

If you like pink, kitschy, vintage stuff, check out these great photos of the inside of Jayne Mansfield’s over-the-top pink mansion from one of my favorite bloggers Messy Nessy Chic.

I love this message on feminine strength from Namaste Moore.

This three ingredient cookie recipe by way of a sassy little video keeps showing up in my Facebook newsfeed and I’m going to have to try it soon!

And, of course, who doesn’t love Audrey Hepburn? Well now you can make her own recipe for one of her favorite dishes, spaghetti al pomodoro!

What I ate on my summer vacation

Remember the first day back at school in the fall and the assignment was to write about what you did on your summer vacation? Well, summer is just getting started, but here’s what I’ve done so far. More accurately, in keeping with our food theme here at Kitsey’s Kitchen, here is what I ate while on vacation.

I’ve been a beach girl from a young age. As a child and teenager my summer vacation was always in the Myrtle Beach area. A few years ago, however, I visited Beaufort, North Carolina, and fell absolutely in love with it. I’ve vacationed on the Crystal Coast near Beaufort, Morehead City and Atlantic Beach ever since.

Mainly my vacation consisted of sitting on the beach staring out at mother ocean, walking on the sand and reading. Aside from actually being at the beach, my other favorite part of vacation is going out to eat.

My dad is an avid fisherman and as a child we often had fish frys at our house. In those days I even ate frog legs! Then I went through a phase where I was kind of weirded out about seafood, unless it was your basically basic tiny tasteless popcorn shrimp. After I started going to some of the nicer restaurants on the Crystal Coast, however, I began to learn to love all sorts of seafood. After having to dissect a frog in eighth-grade biology, I still can’t bring myself to eat frog legs though.

Frog legs were on the menu down at the coast last week, however, and my dad ordered them one night at one of my all-time favorite restaurants — Floyd’s 1921. Floyd’s is in a beautiful old home in Morehead City and serves up great southern favorites like meatloaf alongside some seaside favorites. My personal favorite dish at Floyd’s is their mahi mahi. I order mine blackened. It comes atop fried green tomatoes with tasso ham gravy. Floyd’s is one of those places I go all on on the menu. I want a cocktail (the Big Daddy Dirty martini), an appetizer (the mac and cheese), soup (she-crab bisque), my entree (the mahi), with wine and dessert. I’m usually miserable by the time I leave, but it’s worth it.

I’ll pause here for a moment on the seafood to tell you about tasso ham gravy, probably one of my favorite things ever. I actually discovered tasso ham gravy at the beach at my other all-time favorite restaurant Amos Mosquitos in Atlantic Beach. Amos Mosquitos is almost always packed, it’s a popular place on the beach and it’s well worth the wait, locals and regulars often refer to it simply as Skeeters. Quaintly decorated with various mosquito-themed objects, dried Spanish moss hangs from branches on the walls and ceiling and there is even a soundtrack of evening insect noises that plays in the bathroom. You have to love a place that gives that much attention to detail in keeping with their theme.

The first time I ever ate there, probably about seven or eight years ago, I ordered their fried pork chop with tasso ham gravy. Now what possessed me to order pork chops I don’t even know because truthfully it’s not a menu item I normally care that much about. I must have had some sort of magical food intuition telling me how good this dish was going to be. The pork chops themselves are thin and so tender they practically fall apart at the touch of a fork. The breading is so delightfully crispy with just the perfect blend of seasoning and then there is the gravy. Ah, the gravy. Tasso ham is a Cajun thing. It’s a cut of pork cured in various seasonings and smoked. The outside of the ham is red with all the spices it is cured with. Using this as your fat to make a gravy or even a pasta sauce is just out of this world. Now when I go to Skeeters I ask the server just to bring me a vat of the gravy and nothing else. They laugh at me, but in a way, I’m really not even kidding.

Tasso is not something readily available around here, although I have found it at Whole Foods before. I typically buy at least two and then slice it into smaller portions which I shrink wrap and freeze for later. You can also find it on the website CajunGrocer.com. The combination of the pork, breaded in such delightful seasonings and the spicy and creamy gravy, well, as you can tell, I could go on and on about it. Though it’s not seafood, it’s pretty much my favorite meal when I go to Atlantic Beach. Skeeter’s mojitos are also great and then they have tiny little fire pits they bring right to your table if you order the s’mores for dessert. It’s just overall such a fun place. If you visit the area and go there, tell them I sent you!

Shrimp, flounder and crab legs were other dishes we enjoyed while at the beach last week. My dad’s favorite place is called Ruddy Ducks and it’s right on the Morehead City waterfront. Their shrimp basket is one of the best deals in the area and great quality food. Their fish tacos are my favorite and their burgers are also terrific. If you like a cocktail with your meal, I suggest the Pain Killer.
Another place I had heard about for years, but never tried is a little drive-in dinner called the Big Oak Drive-In. It’s right near the beach in the Salter Path area of Atlantic Beach. They’re famous for their shrimp burger — fried shrimp on a bun with ketchup, tartar sauce and slaw. We finally tried it this trip. We had onion rings and fries and gobbled up those shrimp burgers as fast as we could.

Channel Marker and McCurdy’s are two of our other favorite places in the area. We always get the crab legs at McCurdy’s and they are always great. Flounder at Channel Marker is my favorite and I love their twice baked stuffed potato as well.

As mentioned above, tasso ham is not an easy ingredient to find in our area, but if you should manage to get your hands on some, here’s a recipe for a tasso ham pasta sauce. Truthfully I would put tasso in everything if I could. I have put it in spaghetti sauce, chili, gumbo and even vegetable soup. It’s just a great seasoning to bring a little spice to any dish.

Kitsey and Morgan’s Tasso Pasta
• 8 oz. of tasso, diced into small cubes
• butter
• 3 to 4 tbsp. flour
• 1 shallot finely minced
• 2 cloves garlic finely minced
• 2 cups chicken broth
• 3/4 cup heavy cream
• salt and pepper to taste
• Parmesan cheese to taste
Add a good-sized pat of butter to a sauce pan and on medium heat begin adding your diced tasso bits. Brown ham slowly until the fat is rendered. Add shallot and cook until translucent. Add garlic and sauté just a minute. Slowly add flour, whisking to make a roux. Once flour has incorporated, slowly add chicken broth. The mixture will begin to thicken, then slowly add cream and mix until incorporated into a thick creamy consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste and grate in a small amount of Parmesan cheese (or a larger amount if that’s your thing.) Serve over your favorite pasta. If you are able to get your hands on some fresh mahi mahi, this dish would also make a great accompaniment.

New jewels

I love jewelry. No, really, it’s sort of an obsession. A few years ago I discovered a jewelry designer by the name of Charles Albert. It’s sort of become my summer tradition to buy a new Charles Albert piece each summer while on vacation.

This year’s piece is a huge green turquoise pendant. What I love most about his designs is they typically incorporate unusual stones and crystals. I’m into crystal healing so jewelry to me serves a dual purpose. It is pretty to look at it and typically has healing properties associated with the stone.

This sign gave me a real chuckle, although all 5 out of the 5 voices in my head told me to go for it. They usually do when it comes to jewelry.

Check out more of Charles Albert’s designs at www.charlesalbert.com.

Got To Be NC dining competition

I had one of the most thrilling culinary experiences last week when I had the chance to attend the Got To Be NC live Competition Dining event in Winston-Salem. A chef from our very own Yadkin County was competing. If you’ve ever watched those cooking competition shows on the Food Network, that gives you an idea of what it was like. Though we weren’t watching the chef’s cook, we got to sample the dishes they made and even vote on our favorites.

I felt a bit like a celebrity at the event as I was seated at the very front and even introduced as one of the media personalities at the start of the event. Another thing that impressed me was the high-tech social media centered style of the event. Upon arrival we were asked to download a smartphone app and that was how we entered our scores during the evening for each of the six courses we were served.

My friends and I try hard to keep from checking our smartphones all the time while out dining together. We even have a running joke that the first person to check their phone has to pay for everyone’s meal. At this event however, cell phone use was highly encouraged. There were screens at the front of the room that displayed a live feed of the social media posts with the hashtag #CompDiningNC which we were encouraged to use if posting about the event. It’s silly, I know, but a sign of the times I suppose that I again felt like a celebrity to see my Twitter posts up on the screen.

There was great pomp and circumstance with a countdown clock on the big screen ticking down the seconds until the event was to begin. There were snazzy videos shown on the screen, including a very important message about fire safety in the kitchen.

When Chef Christian Froelich’s name was announced as one of the competitors for the night there was a great cheer from the crowd. Christian is the owner and chef at Hearth Restaurant, located at Sanders Ridge winery in Boonville. Earlier that day the competing chefs had been told what the secret ingredients would be that they were to use in preparing three courses each.

I hadn’t eaten very much during the day and was really hungry by the time I arrived for the competition. All of the diners seemed anxious as well for the announcement of what the secret ingredients and theme of the meal was to be. When the host announced that the theme was cheese and crackers, my heart sank a little. I was hungry! I wanted a meal, not cheese and crackers. Oh great, I thought, I should have stopped at Bojangles on the way here. Well, I’m glad indeed that I did not stop at a fast food joint on the way because the unique and delicious dishes prepared by both chefs were unbelievable. Who knew that you can transform simple cheese and crackers into so many fancy meals.

Aside from providing an entertaining experience for food lovers, part of the mission of the Competition Dining Series is to promote locally grown, caught, raised and made products. The secret ingredients for the night were no ordinary crackers and cheese, they were artisan cheese and flatbread crackers from the Goat Lady Dairy in Climax and The Accidental Baker in Hillsborough.
It was amazing to see some of the unusual ways the two chefs incorporated the cheese and crackers into the dishes they prepared.

The first course of the evening was a braised venison shank canape atop a sea salt cracker with cranberry spread and soubise fluid gel made from the Sandy Creek cheese. I confess I had to look up soubise fluid gel before writing this, basically it’s sort of a creamy thick sauce.
Following the venison was a savory cheesecake with the crust made from rosemary garlic crackers. This was my very favorite dish of the evening. I had never before had a savory cheesecake, but it was delightful. It was garnished with a very small green salad and a fig and red onion marmalade. The sweet marmalade and the salty garlicy crust of the cheesecake was just wonderful and refreshing together.

Now keep in my mind, as each of the courses were presented we were not told which chef had made
them. I, of course, was hoping for our local chef to win, but I had to vote my taste buds and couldn’t play favorites as I had no idea who made which dish. As it turns out, my two favorites of the night were made by Christian who did, in fact, claim the victory in the competition.
The third course, and my second favorite dish, was a pork cheek ravioli served with bacon braised kale and Brussels sprout leaves. As you may recall, I’m a huge fan of anything with bacon. I’ll admit that in a restaurant I probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to order something with pork cheek, but you know, when in Rome! The most unique thing about this particular dish though was the fact that the pasta for the ravioli was actually made using the crushed crackers as a flour. The entire dish had a nice peppery spice to it that was amazing.

A beef dish, encrusted with crackers was next on the menu, followed by breast of duck with pickled green strawberries. Pickled green strawberries is another thing that doesn’t really sound like it would be good, but it was. The final course was a lemon custard tart.

Throughout the evening there were videos with short interviews of the chefs and lively chatter among the diners as well as we all compared notes on our favorites.
It was just such a unique and exciting experience.

You can, of course, sample Christian’s award-winning culinary masterpieces right here in Yadkin County at the Hearth Restaurant in Boonville. Christian also has been kind enough to share a recipe with me for this week’s column. Here is his recipe for savory cheesecake.

Chef Christian’s Savory Cheesecake
Ingredients:
• 1.5 cups Ground Savory Cracker Crumbs
• 1/3 cup Butter, Melted
• 1.5 Tbsp. Sugar, Granulated
Combine well, press into bottom of a greased 9” spring form pan & bake at 350 for 12 minutes.
•12 oz. Cream Cheese
• .25 cups Sugar, Granulated
• 2 each Eggs, Whole
• 12 oz. Soft Cheese, Grated (If it is too soft to grate, just drop it in in small pieces.
• ¾ cup Sour Cream
Instructions:
On medium speed, whip cream cheese well until fluffy. Gradually add sugar until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time until well combined. Fold in cheese and sour cream. Add to pan, and smooth the top. Bake at 300 degrees approximately 30 to 45 minutes or until top has golden color and the center is slightly raised.
Place in refrigerator for at least two hours. Remove and place on counter. Carefully run a warm thin blade around the edges to loosen cake from the sides. Then carefully open spring form pan and remove outside. (You can use a crème brulee torch to warm the outside of the pan to help release the cake.) Place a wide spatula under the crust and lift cake to a cutting board or plate. Cut each slice with a warm blade for a clean, straight edge.
Serve at room temperature or slightly warmed with salad and preserves.

Gogo jewelry

Last weekend my bridesmaids surprised me with an unexpected trip to the coast. It was just what the doctor ordered. We went to Amelia Island in Florida, where one of my bridesmaid’s sisters has a place. We had a amazing time.

We sat in the sand, soaked up some rays, ate some good food and shopped, of course.
I was so thrilled to find a jewelry store that carried Gogo jewelry.

I saw a segment on Gogo Ferguson about two years ago on TV and I had been wanting this rattlesnake rib bone ring ever since. Now, I have no real fascination with snakes and normally my taste in jewelry leans to things a little more sparkly, but for some reason this ring was calling my name.

You can watch the video here all about Gogo and her jewelry.

And here a few more pictures from the island!

How does your garden grow?

I started gardening a few years ago and I love it. One of my favorite things to grow are herbs. I love to use them in my cooking.

Something as simple as adding fresh mint to my iced tea in the summer makes all the hard work of gardening worth while.

This year I have mint, rosemary, regular oregano and hot and spicy oregano, thyme and lemon thyme, basil, parsley and dill.

Once my cucumbers come in I’ll be canning dill pickles using my fresh dill! I can’t wait.

In the future I hope to grow many other types of herbs, including some which more magical properties.