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Skillet Cornbread

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The deciding factor in our debate over whether or not we should elope was, truth be told, our families.  We weighed all of our options, made a pro/con list, and ultimately decided that being able to celebrate our commitment with our friends and family was worth all the hassle of wedding planning.  In the year that we’ve been at it, we’ve definitely had some bumps in the road.  On the upside, there have been some really wonderful moments and I’ve been touched time and time again at how the people we love have come together for us.

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This past weekend, I was treated to a wonderful adventure in celebration of our wedding.  My grandmother, mother, two of my aunts, and my cousin joined me in Williamsburg, Virginia for an incredible weekend.  We met on Friday and worked our way through Williamsburg, focusing mostly on eating.  We took in some history, but to be honest, our days revolved around food.  One of my favorite parts of the weekend was the first planned activity we took part in.  My Aunt Paula used her googling skills and found a restaurant called “A Chef’s Kitchen.”  The basic premise of their operation is to bring the instructional aspect of cooking shows to a real audience, who in turn get to watch, learn, and eat.

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They serve a five course meal, paired wine.  The menu changes each month based on seasonal ingredients, and they make 3/4 of the meal in front of you.  You’re also sent home with all of the recipes, so today I’m sharing what was one of my favorite elements to the dinner, their skillet cornbread.  The cornbread was the first thing that was cooked in front of us, and it was paired with a lovely arugula salad.  The cornbread course followed a corn soup, and afterwards we were served a scallop over a bed of cilantro pesto noodles, succeeded by berkshire pork and ratatouille.  The whole thing was topped off with a chocolate terrine with (as my Aunt Jill pointed out in excited whispers) triple layered ganache.

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I can imagine that you are already booking your reservations so that you can partake in the TRIPLE GANACHE as soon as possible.  I’ve already promised Dan that as soon as we have a free weekend (so, after September) we’ll be taking a trip down there because I just know that he would love everything about it.  Other sites in Williamsburg that were a big hit were the Cheese Shop, where I partook in my favorite pass-time- eating cheese, the colonial herb garden, where I got talked into buying a floppy straw hat, and the Fat Canary, where there were signs informing diners that both the water and the plumbing was historic.

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I will admit that making this at home proved more difficult than drinking wine and watching them make it.  I’m not sure if I just didn’t cook it long enough, if my skillet wasn’t hot enough, or if I bought cornmeal that was too coarse, but it turned out a little off.  Even after doubling the cooking time it wasn’t cooked through, so I will have to revisit the dish.  Dan still claims it was delicious and suggested that since he doesn’t feel obligated to be nice to me when I don’t deserve it, I have no reason not to believe him.  All I know is that I can’t wait to try more of the recipes from Friday night, and I will definitely be going back to A Chef’s Kitchen.  This weekend was far better than I could have ever expected it to be, and time spent with celebrating my family was exactly what Dan and I had in mind when we decided to include our families in this crazy wedding.

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From left: Jill, Paula, Marlene, Jessie, Cathy, Elena

Skilled-Baked Cornbread
Source: A Chef’s Kitchen

1 3/4 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

2 cups buttermilk

1 tbsp butter

For this recipe, you need a cast-iron skillet, preferably one that is well seasoned.

Preheat your oven to 450, with the skillet in the oven.  After the oven is preheated, leave the pan in for an additional 5 minutes.

Whisk together cornmeal, sugar, salt, b. powder, and b. soda.  Add the egg and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.

Remove the skillet from the oven and add the butter.  Allow it to melt and brown.  Swirl it around so that the edges and bottom are coated.

Pour in the cornbread batter and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cooked thoroughly.  Turn out onto a cutting board and serve warm.

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Grilled Peach Salad

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One of my favorite summer fruits are peaches.  And I know that I keep telling you that different summer fruits are my favorite summer fruit, and well… guilty as charged.  But I really do love peaches.  And I really do love hitting that point in the summer where you start to see peaches at the grocery store and farmers market because seriously guys, what experience is more SUMMER than sitting outside with peach juice running down your face?

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This salad is quick, easy, and delicious.  I decided to grill the peaches because grilling them brings out their flavor and creates a wonderful crust.  I also like the grillmarks.  In addition to grilled peaches, this salad has candied pecans, cinnamon-honey chicken, and a little cheese.  Because what salad doesn’t need just a little bit of cheese?  The flavors of all the different ingredients come together to make a salad that is really dynamic.  The sweet juicy peaches play well off the crunchy spicy nuts, and the chicken is both savory and sweet.  It’s a pretty perfect summer salad, if you ask me.

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Grilled Peach Salad

1 chicken breast

1 peach

1/4 cup candied pecans (recipe here)

4 cups mixed greens

3 tbsp honey

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp vegetable oil

Parmesan cheese

Mix together cayenne and cinnamon, and rub into chicken breast.  Cook over medium heat until cooked through.

While the chicken is cooking heat up your grill or grill pan.  Brush the grill with vegetable oil.  Slice your peach and brush each side with vegetable oil as well.  Grill over medium heat for 4 minutes on each side.

When the chicken has cooked, slice and return to pan.  Pour honey over the chicken and allow to simmer.

Build your salad with mixed greens, grated parmesan, candied nuts, peaches, and chicken slices.  Top with the dressing of your choice (we recommend raspberry vinaigrette)

Serves 2

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Mountain Pie

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Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, today is my birthday.  I may or may not have mentioned here before that I have a tendency to make a very big deal out of my birthday.  I think that it stems from having a lot of family spread over the east coast and a summer birthday.  I would start celebrating in May with my class and then keep celebrating as we visited people over the summer.  For most of my childhood my birthday spanned months instead of hours.  It may have spoiled me.

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When I was fifteen I got a job as a lifeguard, and then all of the sudden I had access to what became a private pool after 9pm.  In the six years that I worked at the pool, we threw some really excellent parties.  We also started a tradition called the beerbeque, a tradition that extended to my 21st birthday, an all day drinkfest in Baltimore.  That particular celebration of life ended with Dan buying me a whiskey shot in Fell’s Point, me throwing up out of a taxi’s open door, and having to go to work the next day even though my legs were covered in permanent marker.  Apparently my brother saw the opportunity to make my foray into legal drinking a little more memorable with a sharpie and his creative imagination.

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It’s safe to say, then, that I’ve had some pretty excellent birthday parties.  From the pool parties at my grandma’s house to the beerbeques of my teen years, I have always celebrated in style.  The one consistent in all of my birthday festivities is that I have always eaten mountain pie on my birthday.  Mountain pie is, in my opinion, the only dessert suitable for a July birthday.  They’re served with ice cream, they’re full of fresh, delicious fruit, and I grew up eating that way, so it’s tradition over everything else.

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Mountain pie is what Dan calls a “dump cobbler.”  Meaning you dump it all together and let the oven take care of the rest.  My grandmother always made it with either fresh peaches or blueberries, but I suppose you could use blackberries or even raspberries if you were feeling frisky.  I like both blueberry and peach, and this year I had one of each.  I made a blueberry pie for my family when we were in Morehead last week, and Dan and I enjoyed a peach pie this past weekend.  I made it with white and yellow peaches, and it was just divine.  I think my father summed it up best when he said “This is delicious.  No, it’s better than that.  This is DAMN GOOD.”

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Mountain Pie

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar*

3/4 cup milk

1 stick butter

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

2 cups fresh blueberries or peaches

Heat oven to 350.

In your dish, melt the butter.

While the butter is melting, mix together to flour, sugar, milk, baking powder, and salt.  If you are using peaches, peel and dice.

When the butter is melted, pour the flour mixture into it.  DO NOT MIX.  Add the fruit on top.  DO NOT MIX.

Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until golden brown.  Serve with ice cream.

Serves 6

*If your fruit is very ripe and therefore very sweet, cut down the amount of sugar.  For overripe peaches I would cut the sugar amount by half.

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