tzatziki

Is anyone else overwhelmed with the mass amounts of cucumbers cranking out of your garden?

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Let’s see a show of hands.

I will admit, I’ve had to great creative over the past weeks with the amount of produce being dropped off on my doorstep. After all, a girl and her hubby can only handle so many slices of cucumbers {sprinkled with a little coarse salt, obviously} as an afternoon snack. I’ve done everything from infusing water with these guys, to spiralizing them in salads, and layering them with soft cheese wedges.

And then I remembered that I had yet to make one of my favorite cucumber snacks – tzatziki dip! This wonderfully tangy appetizer is one of my favorites – in fact, a Greek restaurant right in our downtown area makes perhaps one of the best I’ve had. I’ll eat it by the spoonful, it’s that’s delicious.

With the idea set in mind, and friends coming over for a night of cocktails/games/cooking, I knew that this would be an excellent time to tweak my recipe. Oftentimes made with sour cream and whole fat yogurt, I wanted to lighten this up slightly so that it would still be delicious, but with healthier benefits. By swapping out the aforementioned yogurt with 0% Greek, the creamy consistency is not lost, nor is flavor. The tart bite of this yogurt pairs perfectly with the zangy lemon. Fresh, spicy garlic is added in for flavor, and dill acts as the balancing beam between the flavors. A little salt and pepper rounds it all out – you’re left with nothing but a bowl of dip so bursting with flavor {and protein! thanks to the Greek yogurt} you won’t miss a thing.

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Tzatziki {makes about 3 cups}

This not only makes a wonderful dip to set out amongst other appetizers, but I absolutely love to spread it on veggie sandwiches, or use it as a topping on salads. To really ensure full flavor, make it a few hours before serving, to let the flavors truly marry together.  

Ingredients:

3 cups of Greek yogurt {I used Chobani 0%}

1 large cucumber, washed and dried well

juice of 1 fresh lemon

3 large clove garlic, minced

1-2 tbsp. dried dill, or to suit your taste

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Using a box grater on the largest side, process the cucumber. I prefer to leave the skin on, as I like the crisp texture and vitamin boost it provides. If using a cucumber with seeds, grate only the fleshy outer area.

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Squeeze out any excess water and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the minced garlic, lemon juice, dill, and salt and pepper. Whisk in the Greek yogurt until combined. Fold in the grated cucumber using a spatula, making sure to fully incorporate.

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Serve alongside assorted veggies, pita bread, and crackers! Dip will last 4 days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator…though it never seems to last more than a day or so in our household ; )

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Let’s Discuss: what’s your favorite brand of Greek yogurt? Do you prefer cooking with a certain variety? 

 

homemade pizza dough

This is a trip down memory lane for me, y’all.

Since I was in elementary school, my mom has had a bread machine. Homemade breads, pretzels, muffins and the like were never short in our household growing up; in fact, I’m fairly certain the 5 of us would burn through at least one large loaf a week. I have fond memories of coming home from school and walking into the house smelling of fresh bread, which I would then slather with Nutella {old habits die hard, I suppose!}. But I have to say that one of my favorite memories associated with said machine was ‘homemade pizza night’.

You see, every Friday, the family would congregate in the kitchen, crowding around the countertops and bumping elbows to decorate their own pizza. My mom and dad would usually share a large one {split down the middle}, and my 2 sisters and myself would each get our own. I can honestly say that it’s fairly easy for me to cluster my youth by pizza topping categories. The best memories are oftentimes associated with food and communal table gathering, especially with my foodie family, so I’m sure you’re not too surprised by this.

But anyways – as I said, even up through high school, Friday night was always reserved for this family tradition. Sure, as we got older, high school football games on Friday nights may cut into the evening time, but it was still always important for us as a family to keep up this tradition. It’s one that, when I moved away for college, I would anticipate with such enthusiasm upon trips home. It’s real serious.

And today, this is a tradition that my husband and I now share together. The first time he was able to experience homemade pizza, I’m pretty sure he looked like he was in absolute heaven. Paired with a nice bottle of red wine {for you over 21ers!}, this meal is the perfect way to decompress from a long week at work – sit back and let your bread machine do the work, prep a few toppings, and before you know it, you’re tucked in on the couch flipping through your Netflix :)

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Homemade Pizza Dough

this is the recipe that my mom has used for as long as I can remember. It can be adapted to be done in a standing mixer, but the method and recipe will be slightly different. If you don’t have a bread machine, check out this post from Shutterbean. You’ll just need to carve out a little extra prep time. 

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups water, room temperature

3 tbsp. light olive oil

4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp. honey

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 tsp. yeast {for use with a bread machine}

optional: 1 heaping tbsp. of vital wheat gluten 

extra flour, for dusting your board

cornmeal, for baking sheets/pizza stones

*special equipment: bread machine

To Prepare:

In the following order, add the ingredients into the well of your bread machine: water, olive oil, honey, and the all-purpose flour {make sure to evenly cover the water so the yeast will not mix early with it}. In one corner atop the flour, add the salt. In a separate corner, add in the vital wheat gluten. Lastly, form a slight well in the center of the flour and add in the yeast. Cover it lightly with the flour.

Set according to your manufacturer’s instructions. The particular model that I have has a dough cycle that runs for 1 hour 50 minutes, or if I’m in a pinch, I can run it on the quick cycle for 45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Once your dough has completed, turn it out onto a surface dusted with flour. Divide the dough (I typically get 4 personal-sized pizzas out of one batch) and roll out to desired thickness. Lay each onto a baking sheet or pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal.

Now, it’s time for the fun part!!! Let yourself get as creative as you’d like with your toppings/sauces…after all, that’s the best part of making pizza at home! I’ve listed below a few of our favorite, tried-and-true combos…

-marinara/mozzarella/parmesan/pepperoni/mushroom

-marinara/mozzarella/mushrooms/sausage

-marinara/mozzarella/parmesan/pepperoni/sausage/olives

-fresh tomato slices/romano cheese/caramelized onion/spinach/chicken

-salsa {as the “sauce”}/mexican cheese/chicken/pineapple/red pepper flakes

-no sauce{!})/sausage/spinach/blue cheese/hot sauce {drizzled on after coming out of the oven)

-fresh tomato/spinach/proscuitto/caramelized onion/mushrooms

-alfredo sauce/chicken/sausage/diced tomato/basil

…of course, feel free to experiment! Classic combinations are a never fail, so don’t be afraid to go with what you love!

Once you’ve completed your masterpiece(s), place onto baking racks in oven. I typically let mine go for 15 minutes, then rotate pans (top pizza onto lower rack, and lower pizza onto top rack). Depending on your oven, you’ll need anywhere from 8-15 more minutes to complete the cooking cycle. If you like your’s bubbly and crisp like I do, start your pizza on the bottom and let it finish cooking on the top rack.

It’s pure heaven if you sprinkle a bit of fresh cracked pepper and kosher salt on top once they come out of the oven.

Enjoy! This will certainly be a tradition in the making, much as it has been in my family.

lately: beer & bourbon festival

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Ross and I at the beginning of the festival, showing off our glasses!

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…because sometimes Kelly and I make goofy faces.

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Cortez Cigars make an appearance every summer and it’s always so neat to see them hand rolled.

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This was a find! We got to sample our namesake bourbon, and it was H.E.A.V.E.N.L.Y. …if only we could have taken some home!

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Watching them pull pork – it was so cool! I was like a kid in a candy store.

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Ross and Chris after tasting some delicious beers.

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One of the many local food trucks posted up under tents!

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A little cornhole action, showcasing the theme of the festival.

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Cloudy skies and rain couldn’t deter our fun!

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Over 40 types of bourbon and more beers than we could count. Pulled pork and good ol’ Southern food for days.

This was the third summer in a row we’ve ventured down to Cary, N.C. for the annual “Beer Bourbon & BBQ Festival” and, true to form, it was a winning time. We sampled a good amount of tasty brews and beverages, but the best part? Spending time and catching up with friends we don’t get to see nearly as often as we’d like. I feel so lucky we were able to make the trip, and we are already counting down to next summer’s shindig!

lately: our beach trip!

The hubs and I spent an amazing week {just the two of us!} living large on the shores of Carolina Beach. Blessed with absolutely perfect weather, plenty of activities, and within walking distance to just about every amazing restaurant/bar in town, we made sure to live up this trip! Take a peak into how we spent the week.

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one of the many beer flights we sampled during the week {this was on our way out, at the Flying Saucer in Raleigh}

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the view from our balcony

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a rosemary-infused cocktail that the bartender created just for us! {we basically closed it down and hung out with the staff, it was so fun}

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rare grilled tuna with an arugula salad, grilled peaches and jalepeno foam

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oyster back {oyster on the half shell eaten after enjoying the cocktail of gin/pickled onion/cilantro}

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one of the things on our “beach bucket list” was to make a sandcastle – we blew this one out of the water!

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at the Shuckin’ Shack {another item on our list was to do an oyster shooter every day – again, we rocked that!}

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bringing home with us – Attimo Wine enjoyed, porch sitting style, after an amazing day on the sand

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home for the week – 3rd floor of the Marriott

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great wave riding this week!

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walking along the pier after dinner on Tuesday evening

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we made sure to document our presence when we were at the Fat Pelican!

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sunshine and tan lines

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cocktail night!

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we found the hidden bookcase entrance to the Green Light Bar{!!} in Raleigh

thirsty thursday: peach-ginger sangria

Peaches are in season, so naturally, I’m in heaven.

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Maybe it’s because the perfectly ripe flesh reminds me of the colors of a summer sunset, but peaches have always served as a symbol of summer. What is more perfect than that first bite, bursting with flavor and dripping with sweet juice?

I’ll find any excuse to put peaches in just about anything I can think of during this time – whether it is sliced raw in salads, grilled and garnished with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, sliced into my bowl of cereal, whirled up in a smoothie…I think y’all probably get it by now. I’m a peach-a-holic.

So when I stumbled across this perfect summer cocktail a week or so back, I immediately sent it to my husband. He’s just as avid a peach lover as I am, so naturally, we decided to prepare it over the weekend. With a few slight modifications to the original recipe, we’ve created our new go-to summer sangria.

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The sweet peaches are perfectly balanced with the tangy addition of grated ginger, and the fresh lime juice helps counteract the bright Grand Marnier.

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In using a sparkling rose, along with club soda to finish, you are left with a slightly fizzy and perfectly refreshing cocktail. I highly recommend you try this out as soon as you can – you’ll be glad you did!

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Peach-Ginger Sangria {adapted from Love & Lemons}

{makes 1 pitcher}

Ingredients:

1 bottle of sparking semi-sweet rose wine

1 cup Grand Marnier

3 large peaches

grated ginger, about 1/2″

juice of one lime

one cup of club soda {provides a nice effervescence}

ice, for serving

*optional garnishes include mint, basil, peach wedges, slices of lemons and limes

To Prepare:

Muddle one of the peaches with a few splashes of the Grand Marnier in the bottom of a large pitcher.

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Slice the remaining peaches and set aside.

Add remaining ingredients, except for the club soda and peaches, into the pitcher. Stir to combine.

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Add in the sliced peaches and top with ice and club soda. Serve in glasses, along with optional garnishes.

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lightened up buffalo chicken dip

Please & Thank You.

Peas & Carrots.

Romeo & Juliet.

…the list goes on and on, and on and on. I could sit here for hours on end, thinking of the perfect marriage between different fun phrases, historical couples, and other random trivia notes, but there’s always one pair that jumps to my mind when I sit and think on “what does pair so well together??”

The answer, my dears, is plain and simple – buffalo chicken and blue cheese.

I could tell you that there was a time, back when I was just a young thing, and I could not even tolerate the mere thought of blue cheese. My dad {sidenote: can categorize basically his entire life using his salad dressing preference} is a huge, huge fan of the stuff, and I have vivid memories of him adding it on to just about every salad at dinnertime. I couldn’t even do it.

As I got older, my tolerance for creamier things began to develop, and I even allowed myself to like love Ranch dressing, especially when paired “late night” style with some delivery pizza. Wings and veggies got the same treatment. I would always reach for the Ranch.

But then, one day, it all changed.

I think that I had gotten so used to the flavor of this classic American dressing that I no longer even liked it. Clearly, my tastes had changed, yet again, and in doing so I thought to myself “what the heck – let’s try this blue cheese again.” And then I fell in love. Blue Cheese on everything! – from pizza crusts to salads, wings to French fries, crumbled on top of pizzas, you name it, I’m game. And then when I saw this recipe I’m sharing with you today, I knew that this was a long-term love affair.

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The best part about this dish is that it’s been slightly lightened up! As we all know, traditional blue cheese dressing is made with gobs of sour cream and mayonnaise. Once you fold in the crumbled cheese, you’re basically looking at a calorie bomb. Same with casseroles and dips made with this beloved culinary treasure. But that’s why were here, right! I distinctly remember stumbling upon this recipe last year, right before the Super Bowl, and it was if Heaven shone a golden light down onto my screen. You can have your blue cheese, and eat it, and enjoy it, too!

We’re replacing the typical mayo/cream cheese/sour cream base of this baked and bubbly dip with one of my favorite ingredients – Greek yogurt! I vary slightly from Cassie’s original recipe, because I opt for 0% plain Greek yogurt, and a blended cream cheese-yogurt mix, but feel free to use whatever you like!

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This is a fantastic dip to take for tailgating, to casual dinner parties…or if you’re really craving it, whip it up for dinner one night! Served alongside some crostini and a big, colorful salad, you’ll be fully satisfied, and not left with a guilty conscience heavy tummy!

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Lightened Up Buffalo Chicken Dip {recipe adapted, slightly, from Back to her Roots}

serves 12, at 1/2 cup per serving

Ingredients:

4 ounces softened Greek Yogurt-Cream Cheese blend*

1/2 cup crumbed Blue Cheese

1 cup plain, 0% Greek yogurt

2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken breast

1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce {you can add more if you prefer a bit more heat! – this yields a more mellow flavor}

2 T. fresh, chopped parsley

1/2 tsp. dried dill

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

salt and pepper, to taste

2 green onions, sliced thin

*this is sold at my local Kroger…it’s a cream cheese and yogurt blend, and I think tastier than regular or low-fat cream cheese. If you can’t find it, no worries! Either regular or low-fat cream cheese will work just fine.

Optional Toppings:

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup panko

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the softened cream cheese, crumbled blue cheese, Greek yogurt, shredded chicken, buffalo sauce, parsley, dill, garlic powder, salt and pepper until well combined.

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Pour mixture into an ungreased one quart casserole dish. If desired, sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese and panko.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and bubbly, at least 30 minutes. I like to, at the very last second, turn the broiler on for 1-2 minutes to get that topping nice and crispy.

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Serve with desired scoopables {pita chips, tortilla chips, etc.} and hearty sliced veggies. Enjoy!

 

fresh watermelon salad

Summertime is the season of salads, if you ask me.

With produce brimming aplenty from your own garden, CSA sign-up, local farmer’s market, or if {like me} you’re lucky enough to have a neighbor who shares their harvest, it can be somewhat challenging to figure out how to best utilize this bounty. I’ve gotten pretty creative in past seasons with pickling veggies, packing shredded squash into loaves of sweet and savory breads, and making jars and jars of sauces. But there still is the question – what do you do with the herbs?

I don’t know about y’all, but my once lowly mint plant has decided to grow without abandon as of late. In all honesty, I thought that this would be the one that didn’t make it. I have an “herb pot” garden that I tend to along the sunny side of our home, simply because with time management, it’s all I can afford. I’m certainly blessed in the basil and rosemary department, but the mint this year…eh…I wasn’t so sure. Little did I know that what would once be the epitome of Tiny Tim plants turn into a raging mint monster. No lie.

Now, us at the homestead can only make so much mint simple syrup and mojitos before completely burning out on this sweet green leaf. And rather than diminishing my love for this plant, I figured that there had to be some way that we could repurpose it. The light bulb hit, right then and there – salad! I was reminded of a barbecue we hosted a few summers ago, and I served up a sweet watermelon and mint salad. Going along those same lines, I set out to recreate it, but with a few different twists and turns.

As I mentioned, I wanted to avoid any overly sweet flavors in this particular dish. Using watermelon and mint, both very sweet on their own, would sure to be an overpowering combination. Keeping that in mind, a salt element would be an important, if not necessary, addition to this dish. I recalled a photo of watermelon and feta cheese paired together, and I knew that would be perfect. A bit of a kick from coarsely ground pepper would counterbalance the salt and sweet, and finally, on somewhat of a whim, I added in a few dashes of red wine vinegar, just to help cut through all the flavors.

This salad is the perfect example of summer, and sunshine, and warm weather, all mixed up in one pretty bowl. It’s the perfect dish to whip up for any dinner party or get-together, and I promise that your guests will be wowed, both on the levels of presentation and flavor!

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Fresh Watermelon Salad 

Ingredients:

roughly 5-6 lbs. fresh watermelon, cubed into bite-sized pieces

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, washed and left whole

4 to 6 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled

red wine vinegar, to taste

pepper, to taste

 

To Prepare:

In a large bowl, mix together the cubed watermelon and feta cheese. Make sure to leave the feta as coarsely crumbled as possible; if stirred to aggressively, the cubes will disintegrate.

Fold in the whole mint leaves, making sure to evenly distribute.

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Season to taste with pepper {I omit any added salt in this recipe, because feta cheese by itself has such a salty and delicious flavor}. Add in several hefty dashes of red wine vinegar, to help cut through the sweetness of the fruit and brighten up the bold notes of the cheese. Store in the refrigerator, tightly covered, until ready to serve.

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Salad will keep, covered, for up to 4 days.