Cougar Gold Cheese Dip

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The Davenport is a lovely historical hotel in downtown Spokane, Washington, where I went to law school. It’s home to a bar called the Peacock Room, which is pretty swanky for Spokane, and back in my law school days I spent quite a bit of time there. How my friends and I had the time or money, I’m not sure, but we would go on Fridays for happy hour and order pricey cocktails, and the waitress would bring delicious little bowls of salted cashews out for the table. At the time, Cougar Gold Cheese Dip wasn’t on the menu, and thank goodness for that or we would have been frequenting the Peacock Room more often than we already were, spending that much more money and gaining that much more weight (or at least spending that much more time at the gym instead of at the law library). The dip debuted on the menu sometime after I finished law school, and I heard about it many times over the years, whenever anyone would go to Spokane and make the obligatory trip to the Peacock Room. I stayed at the Davenport a couple years ago when I was back in Spokane for my younger cousin’s college graduation, and finally had the opportunity to try it for myself. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.

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Cougar Gold is a delicious sharp white cheddar cheese that’s made at the Washington State University Creamery in Pullman, Washington. As a Husky, I’m not supposed to be that into the Cougs, but I have to admit they make some pretty delicious cheese. When I was in college, the only place you could buy Cougar Gold was at the WSU bookstore, and any trip to Pullman included a special trip to the bookstore just to stock up on a few cans. Nowadays you can get it at the Metropolitan Market in Seattle, and at New Seasons in Portland. You can also order it online, and even with shipping it’s a lot cheaper than at Met Market and New Seasons. You don’t need the whole can, however – you only need four ounces for this recipe, and you can buy four ounce wedges at the grocery stores – it’s a lot more economical and you’ll eat a lot less cheese.  I love the can, though, so I splurged. Leftover cheese can be used for Mac and Cheese (there’s a Cougar Gold Mac and Cheese recipe, or you can use it in place of Beecher’s for the World’s Best recipe – legend has it Beecher’s was modeled after Cougar Gold), crumbled next to crackers for the easiest and most delicious cheese plate ever, or for any number of cheesy recipes.  Make this dip first, though – it literally takes five minutes and your friends/family/fellow tailgaters will thank you.

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One Year Ago: Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore
Two Years Ago: Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash)

Hot Cougar Gold Cheese Dip, from The Davenport Hotel

Serves a crowd 

1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, washed, dried, and chopped
12 ounces cream cheese, cut into small cubes
8 ounces gruyère cheese, grated
4 ounces Cougar Gold cheese, grated
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
Baguette, apples, and carrots, and/or whatever else you like to eat with cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add shallot and garlic mixture and season with cayenne pepper and salt. Mix until well combined. Pour into four ovenproof ramekins or a 1 3/4 quart baking dish. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling (8-10 minutes for ramekins, 12-15 minutes for larger dish). Finish under the broiler for a few seconds until top is golden brown and caramelized. Top with additional parsley and cayenne pepper and serve with sliced baguette, apples, and carrots.

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Melissa Clark’s Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs

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When I first started this blog two years ago (!!!), it felt like I was posting a Melissa Clark recipe every other week.  I forced myself to take a break for awhile, so that I wouldn’t post every recipe she’s ever written, but tragically that meant that this, my most successful dinner party recipe to date, never made it onto the blog. Since I don’t eat red meat, I can’t tell you from personal experience how delicious these ribs may or may not be. However, I’ve made them a number of times now, and have passed on the recipe to family and friends, each time with rave reviews. Since I cook primarily for the accolades, I make these ribs a lot.

This recipe comes from the January chapter of Cook This Now (Melissa organizes the recipes in this cookbook by month), so I had every intention of posting it two months ago. But as you may have noticed, Blueberries and Basil is off to a slow start this year, so my “January Short Ribs” are a little delayed – I hope you can forgive me.  After all, most of the country is still experiencing January weather. And even in the Pacific Northwest, where it feels like May, it turns out short ribs are still well received even when it’s 50 degrees at dinner time.

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Many of you are probably familiar with how to braise short ribs – but I really wasn’t, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover how easy it is. it’s the perfect make-ahead meal (dinner party or otherwise) because you can prepare it in advance, pop it in the oven, and not give it a second thought for the next three hours. Simply reduce your port* and wine**, brown your meat, sauté your veggies, dump everything into your Dutch oven and bake (technically braise, I suppose) for three hours while you clean your kitchen, make dessert, take a nap, run errands – you get the idea. Three hours to do whatever you like while a delicious meal comes together in the oven, all on it’s own. *Melissa uses port and wine, but if you don’t feel like buying a bottle of port only to use half a cup, I confess I’ve made them without the port before and haven’t heard any complaints. **The recipe calls for a dry red wine – I googled “dry red wine for short ribs” (because that’s the level of sophistication I have when it comes to using wine in cooking) and found most people recommend a petit syrah, so that’s what I’ve been using, but I think you could use whatever you have on hand.

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Meat usually grosses me out, but even I have to admit, they’re kind of pretty.  And they make your kitchen smell amazing!  The original recipe is technically for oxtails (speaking of being grossed out) rather than short ribs, so Melissa tells you the meat should be “almost” falling off the bone after two and a half hours. I’m assuming the rules for short ribs are different, as mine are usually actually falling off the bone after an hour or so. Again, I don’t eat them so I can’t say for certain, but I’m constantly asking people if they’re overdone and am assured they are perfect. But that said, if you needed to shorten the cooking time a bit I think you’d be ok. The beauty of braising, I’m learning, is that you really can’t go wrong. Bon appétit!

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Port Wine-Braised Short Ribs, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine
1/2 cup ruby port
3 lbs beef short ribs
Kosher salt, for seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper, for seasoning
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 shallots, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 medium leeks, chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
3 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary  sprigs
1 bunch parsley stems (use some of the leaves for garnish, if you like)
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and diced small
Balsamic vinegar to taste

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the wine and port to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, brown the short ribs. Season them generously with salt and pepper (you will need at least two teaspoons salt and one teaspoon pepper, or possibly more – enough to get the meat well coated). In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the olive oil. Working in batches, arrange the short ribs in a single layer and brown on all sides.  Take your time with this and let them get good and brown; don’t crowd the pan, or they will steam and never develop that tasty caramelized crust. Transfer the short ribs to a bowl.
3. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter in the Dutch oven and add the shallots, garlic, leeks, and celery.  Cook the vegetables, scraping up the browned bits at the bottom of the pan, until softened, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes.
4. Arrange the short ribs over the vegetables and add the reduced wine-port mixture. Using kitchen twine, tie together the thyme, rosemary, parsley stems, and bay leaves, and drop into the pot. (You can skip the twine and simply drop the herbs into the pot if you don’t have kitchen twine on hand – although it’s a bit of a pain to fish them out before serving).  Bring the liquid to a boil on the stovetop, then cover and transfer the Dutch oven to the oven. Cook, turning the ribs occasionally (or not), until the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours (mine always seem to be falling off the bone by the two hour mark, but I give them 2 1/2 regardless if time allows). Add the carrots and cook another 30 minutes.
5. Season with balsamic vinegar and additional salt, if desired. Serve over mashed potatoes and top with parsley.

*If you’re serving the short ribs right away, as I usually am, you can spoon some of the fat off of the surface if it looks a little greasy (mine never seem to). You can also refrigerate and serve the next day; in that case the fat is easy to scrape off – although you lose a lot of your vegetables with it.

**In lieu of short ribs, you could use: 4 1/2 pounds oxtail pieces, 4 lamb foreshanks, 2-3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, or 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat.

***In lieu of mashed potatoes, you could serve over polenta, roasted potatoes, roasted root vegetables, or anything else that suits your fancy. You could also serve it on its own, as a simple stew.

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Friday Faves

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{Seahawks Glassybaby: Grass (similar here), Blue Friday, Remembrance, We Are 12, Blue Bird}

Happy Blue Friday, friends! I haven’t updated this blog since Christmas, but there’s nothing like a(nother) Seahawks Superbowl to inspire me to post a Friday Faves!  Do you have big plans for Sunday? As much as I wish I was currently on a plane to Phoenix, staying home for the game means I get to make some fun Seahawks treats (and follow the game a whole lot better).  I’m listing some of my favorite Superbowl recipes and ideas below – if you have any to add I would love to hear them in the comments!

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend. Go Hawks!!

  • Homemade Queso: yum. We had queso in Austin a couple weeks ago and it was served in adorable mini cast iron skillets, so that’s what I’m going to do on Sunday – one for the upstairs TV and one for the downstairs. If you wanted to make your life easier, my friend Kelly makes amazing queso and she does hers in the Crock Pot – brilliant!
  • Three Healthy Dips: I’m most excited about the caramelized onion, but they all look yummy. And will help to balance out the queso, obviously.
  • Homemade Tater Tots: Not gonna lie, I’m probably not actually going to make these – but they’re an adorable idea in theory. And if I somehow end up with five extra hours on my hands tomorrow, maybe I will!
  • Seahawks Rice Krispie Treats: These would also be a pain, but somehow less ridiculous than making your own tater tots.
  • And last but not least, Jello Shots!

photo 1-31{decadent cure for my dry winter skin}

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{my royal icing practice continues: favors for Cooper’s baptism and Baby N’s shower}

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{so sad to say goodbye to the PDX carpet}

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{Coop pulls off my Hawks beanie better than I do}

Friday Faves

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{this candle was a gift from my friend Amanda – isn’t it perfect?}

Would you believe this is B&B’s 100th post?  I know, it seems crazy. I have yet to receive a book deal (sigh), but I would like to think I’m getting a teensy bit better at wordpress, at least.  Baby steps. The blog has been so much fun for me, and even though I’m not always as consistent as I’d like to be (see, e.g., mid-May through mid-July 2014), it’s so much more fun to try a new recipe or restaurant when I know I get to share it with all of you.  And – confession time – sometimes I use Friday Faves as an excuse to buy things. Don’t tell.

This week has been spent waiting around for my new baby nephew to make his debut – today’s his due date, and we’re still waiting.  I’m predicting he comes today – cross your fingers (for my poor sister, who is R-E-A-D-Y to be done being pregnant).  If I’m wrong, my weekend will be filled with more waiting. Come on, Baby P!! In the meantime, some links and faves. Happy Friday!

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{delicious and healthy lunch from garden bar in portland – I wish someone would open this in seattle!}

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{cupcakes for my cousin clare’s bridal shower – didn’t they turn out so cute?
toppers here, papers here}

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{this mascara is amazing}

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{some of my favorite things from the diaper bag I put together for baby p}

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{including the most adorable honest company diapers!}

Friday Faves

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{make your own ice cream sandwich at Hello Robin}

What are you up to this weekend? I’m heading to the coast for my cousin’s bachelorette party – we’re excited for some cooler beach temperatures after another sweltering week. And Baby Nephew Watch 2014 is officially ON – T minus one week to go.  I’m so excited I can hardly stay away from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale bear it. Doctor says he might be early, so next week’s Friday Faves could be all baby pics (don’t say I didn’t warn you)!! My poor sis is more than ready for him to make his debut, but I’m hoping he sits tight until at least Wednesday so that he’s a Leo (not that I particularly care about astrological signs, but I’ve bought him a LOT of lion stuff and I don’t want it to be for naught). 

Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend. Links and faves to get you through your Friday morning (and the links even have a theme this week, I’m getting so fancy!):

  • How to grill anything and everything – so many helpful tips! 
  • How to make entertaining look easy – I would add “get yourself ready ahead of time.”  My aunt threw a dinner party this past Christmas and told me she told my uncle beforehand “our goal is to be sitting on the couch with a glass of wine half an hour before the guests arrive.” I’m usually still drying my hair when my guests arrive, but the thirty minute/wine/couch rule is now my goal too.
  • How to be the most popular person at a party – my friend Larisa brought these to a beach weekend a couple months ago and they were amazing! 
  • How to cure a headache – I need this! 
  • How to get really excited about this movie – ok this really isn’t a “how to” – but it does make me VERY excited for October 3rd!!  I hope you’ve all read the book – even if you hated the ending.  And if you haven’t read it yet, you have 2.5 months! 

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{my new summer obsession – stumptown cold brew}

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{love this organic lip/cheek color}

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{peaceful summer evening at the driving range}

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{some pics from my sister’s baby shower last month –  can you tell we were pretty into our alligator theme? invitations and banner from olive + star, alligator brownie toppers from etsy, DIY vases, cookie favors by yours truly, and cordy roy and his mini radio flyer from auntie/hostess Amanda}

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{and of course, my gift to baby p – hopefully he’s a baseball fan!}

Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Friday Faves: Easter Edition

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{antique ceramic bunny that belonged to my grandmother}

Happy Good Friday! I hope everyone is looking forward to a weekend full of sunshine (?), egg hunts, and chocolate. What are some of your favorite Easter traditions? I love going to mass with my family on Sunday morning – our parish has the most amazing choir and they sing almost all of my favorite “church songs” at Easter mass.  I used to love indulging in whatever I had given up for Lent at brunch, but this year I didn’t give up anything so I guess that’s out.  My eight year old cousin told me last night that Lent ends the Wednesday before Holy Thursday, has anyone ever heard of this?  He claims the priest at his school told his whole class.  Theoretically, the priest would know better than me, but I was skeptical so we looked it up and the answer isn’t entirely straightforward.  I’m choosing to stick with my lifelong understanding that Lent ends on Easter, but Nolan gave up chocolate this year and he really wanted to eat a chocolate chip ice cream sandwich last night, so he’s going with what his priest told him.  If anyone can shed any light on this debate, I would love to hear it in the comments.

I found some fun Easter links for you, and then dug up all of the old B&B recipes that I thought would be good for an Easter brunch (since I didn’t get it together to make anything new).  And then, of course, some faves from the week (three weeks in a row – I’m really on a roll!).  Wishing you all a wonderful Easter weekend!

  • 40 ways to decorate eggs
  • Last minute basket inspiration – I love the idea of the ceramic berry baskets (and just for the record, I had my Paper Source grass well before I saw this post!)
  • How adorable are these muffins? I’m trying to stay away from wheat but I might have to cheat and make/eat these on Sunday.
  • Remember when Easter meant a new dress? This year I would pick this one.
  • Easter egg cookies – easier than they look!

Easter on B&B, previously: Blueberry MuffinsLeek and Swiss Chard Tart, Blueberry Cornmeal Coffee Cake, Coconut Cupcakes and Carrot Muffins, Leek Bread Pudding and Coconut Loaf, Chocolate Peanut Butter Meringues

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{easter glassybaby: evelyn, grass (not available online), sweet pea, canary}

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{easter lilies}

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{bulk chocolate eggs}

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Everyone seemed to find it pretty odd that I made an Easter basket for a baby due this summer – I don’t really understand why, but I guess perhaps not everyone loves buying baby gifts as much as I do? I had so much fun putting it together – and someday Baby P will know how much I loved him even before he was born, even if his mother thinks I’m nuts. Basket and liner from Pottery Barn Kids, safari blanket from Serena & Lily, sleeper from Hanna Anderson, books from Amazon, bottle from Life Factory (and filled with peanut butter M&Ms, which might have been the hit of the basket), bunny lovey and rattle from Bunnies by the Bay, paper grass from Paper Source (seems minor, but good easter basket grass is harder to find than you might think!).