grilled guacamole with parmesan and basil

Looks can be deceiving.

When I was little, I avoided guacamole like the plague. My reasons for hating guac?  It was mushy, and it was green.  One day, when I was feeling a tad bit adventurous, I dipped my chip into the creamy, dip and I’ve been seriously obssessed ever since.

I must confess that I feel guilty about my former hatred of the wonderful dip, especailly since my two reasons for avoiding it (green and mushy) were not good reasons at all to miss out on all of guacamole’s magic for the first decade of my life.  To make up for this, I came up with three very good reasons to love guacamole.

avocados chillin’ on the grill
1.  Guacamole gets you friends.  Eating guacamole is a communal event.  Nothing says “be my friend” like a big bowl of chips and an even bigger bowl of guacamole.  Whip some of this out and you’ll be one of the most popular kids in town. 

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2. Guacamole is like nature’s form of butter.  It’s creamy, spreadable, and buttery.  And we all know how awesome butter is…

3. Guacamole is healthy.  It’s full of healthy fats, omega-threes, fiber and all that jazz. Did you know avocados are the most nutritionally complete food? Humans could theoretically survive on avocados alone. Pass the chips.  

Still skeptical?  This “guacamole” isn’t traditional at all.  First, it’s full of garlic, basil, and Parmesan cheese instead of cilantro, lime and red onions — adding an Italian twist to the Mexican favorite.  Second, I grilled my avocados on the panini press, adding a whole new warm, crispy flavor to them (it’s proven that everything tastes better with grill marks…).  Third, I threw in some super savory ingredients like white truffle salt and a robust (somewhat pricey) extra virgin olive oil — these luxurious ingredients sure paid off.   It’s warm, herby, and cheesy — and it’ll make you look at this delicious dip in a whole new light.  Looks can be deceiving, but taste speaks for itself. 

Did you ever hate a food because of the way it looked?

With love,
Erica

Ingredients
3
firm-ripe avocados

3
tablespoons olive oil, plus more for grilling (the fruiter and richer, the better)

juice and zest of 1 lemon

salt and freshly ground pepper  (I used truffle salt for extra savory flavor)

1
large clove garlic, minced

1/4
cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped

1/2
cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more to taste

Heat your panini press to the highest setting (alternatively, you could use a gas or charcoal grill).  Halve and pit the avocados.  Drizzle generously with olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

 
Place the avocado halves cut side down on the grill.  Cook for about 4 minutes, or until you can see crispy, golden-brown grill marks on them (check frequently to make sure they’re not burning).  Scoop the flesh out of the avocados and mash gently with a fork (I like to leave mine quite chunky). Stir in the rest of the olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, basil and
Parmesan.  Serve immediately.
Adapted from Food 52

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the perfect lunch (lox and rye and brussel sprouts!)

The perfect lunch is different for everyone.  Some may fall head over heels for a big, juicy cheeseburger and fries.  Others might go crazy for a kale and quinoa salad.

look at those grill marks!!!

For me, the perfect lunch is dark, crusty bread, thinly sliced lox, a big smear of cream cheese, and a few leaves of spinach for color.  I (generously) butter the bread and it gets all crispy and succulent in the panini press.   Heaven.

On the side, I love to have some veggies.  But not just any old veggies — my famous candied Brussels sprouts.  Some of my friends who normally would never touch a vegetable with a hundred yard stick fell head over heels for these Brussels sprouts.  It’s true, and mildly creepy — almost like those Hidden Valley Ranch commercials where the kids choose cauliflower over popcorn.  These sprouts are mind-bogglingly addictive, in a totally good-for-you way. 

What’s your idea of the perfect lunch?
With love,
Erica

Erica’s Famous Candied Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients
2 cups Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add Brussels sprouts.  Sprinkle with brown sugar.  Cook until outsides are lightly brown and caramelized (3-5 minutes). Add cranberries and salt and pepper to taste.

© Cannella Vita. All images & content are copyright protected. Please do not use my images without my permission/linking back to Cannella Vita. If you want to republish this recipe, please link back to this post.

recipe showdown: sweet potato casserole

I thought it would be a good idea to try four very different recipes for this showdown. However, each of these recipes were very good in its own way.  I’m not saying that to be diplomatic.  Just like their is a perfect outfit for every occasion, there is a perfect sweet potato casserole for every occasion. Here’s the lowdown.

Martha Stewart’s Sweet Potato Casserole:
Perfect for kids, with a beautiful presentation that adults will enjoy as well!
Martha’s sweet potato casserole has a very simple base (just sweet potatoes, milk, and a dash of salt and pepper). But it’s topped with a big, bubbly layer of toasted marshmallows.  It is by far the prettiest of the four casseroles — the toasted marshmallows look so enticing and beautiful on the table!

Ruth’s Chris Sweet Potato Casserole:
Oh. My. God. This sweet potato casserole is knock-your-socks-off tasty.  The buttery, brown sugar topping gets all crispy and delightful.  My mom said she is still thinking about this casserole to this day!  Sure there’s a lot of buttery and brown sugar-y goodness in there, but in the taste department this casserole was the clear winner.

Oh She Glow’s Not Your Grandmother’s Sweet Potato Casserole:
This casserole held its own extremely well against its buttery and sugary counterparts. Sweetened with maple syrup and topped with coconut oil and whole wheat flour, this casserole is not only healthy, but delicious too! Trust me!

Kraft’s Oat Topped Sweet Potato Crisp:
This one was the only one that wasn’t a huge hit, the oats were a bit mushy, and the cream cheese added a strange tang to the sweet potatoes. 🙁

Hope this quick showdown helps you choose which sweet potato casserole to make for your Thanksgiving feast!

With love,
Erica

apple cornbread stuffing

 Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I’ve been busy planning my menu for a while now.  I’ve already found the perfect cornbread, we’ve ordered a turkey, I have six pie crusts in my fridge… the only thing left is the stuffing! Stuffing has always been my favorite Thanksgiving dish, so this year, it better be good.  We usually make stuffing from a mix, but  I want to make homemade stuffing this year.  I was getting frustrated finding a recipe that measured up to Kraft’s Stove Top Stuffing Mix.  The recipes that I tried all have either too much chicken broth, are to mushy, or are too oily.

Luckily, this one is different.  It’s not a traditional stuffing (i.e. you can’t actually stuff a turkey with it), but boy is it good. It’s technically a bread pudding, but when served in a casserole dish, it can totally pass for stuffing. It is a wonderful medley of sweet and savory flavors.  Apples, fluffy bread, and whipping cream complement sage, cornbread and onions.

This recipe is from the restaurant Ris in Washington D.C.. The Washingtonian has a series called “recipe sleuth” where they track down awesome recipes from famous restaurants in Washington D.C.. I love knowing that I can save time and money making real, restaurant food at home.  It makes me feel like I’m beating the system.

When I tested the recipe, I used a loaf of brioche from Whole Foods. However, there was a sale on panettone at the grocery store this weekend, so I am planning on replacing the brioche with panettone for our Thanksgiving feast.  I use homemade cornbread in this recipe (bake up a double batch, use half in this recipe, and serve half as a side dish); however, store bought cornbread would work just fine as well.

With love,
Erica

NOTE: The panettone makes this recipe absolutely delicious! Brioche and challah are good, but panettone makes this casserole absolutely legendary. If you can get your hands on one, by all means use panettone.

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing ramekins
1 cup peeled, ¾-inch diced Honeycrisp or Braeburn apples
1 cup finely julienned onions
2 cups ¾-inch diced cornbread, from a favorite recipe or storebought
2 cups ¾-inch diced brioche or challah (I use Panettone which is DELICIOUS)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage (blanch the leaves before chopping)
4 tablespoons fresh thyme
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
½ teaspoon ground pepper
4 ounces apple butter (see recipe below)
4 large eggs
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 cups heavy cream

Butter
the bottom and sides of eight 8-ounce ramekins and set aside. Preheat
the oven to 300 degrees for a convection oven or 325 for a conventional
oven.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a pan over medium-high heat.
Add the cut apples, letting them sit briefly to gain color. Stir and
allow them to cook a few minutes more until they’re lightly brown but
still firm. Remove from pan and set aside.

Melt the other
tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, stirring
occasionally until they’re soft and lightly colored, about 5 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and let cool.

In a large
bowl, combine the cornbread, brioche, herbs, salt, white pepper, apple
butter, and the caramelized apples and onions once they’ve cooled. In a
separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolk, Tabasco, and cream.
Add the egg mixture to the cornbread mixture and let soak for 10
minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Divide the mixture into each of the buttered ramekins, filling
each to ¼ inch from the top. Place the ramekins in a water bath and bake
for about 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
(This recipe can be prepared in a larger casserole form, which bakes for
a longer time, roughly 45 minutes. Again, test the doneness with a
toothpick.)


Apple Butter

2 Honeycrisp or Braeburn apples, peeled and sliced (roughly ¼-inch thick)
1 tablespoon butter

Melt
the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the sliced apples, letting
them rest a minute or two to get color. Stir and cook a few minutes
longer so the apples are lightly brown and soft. Purée in a blender, and
let cool before mixing with other ingredients.

From the Washingtonian

recipe showdown: baked mac and cheese

Most of the trees in my neighborhood have lost their leaves.  I have to wear a coat to school everyday.  I’ve swapped my iced chai teas with pumpkin spice lattes.
What does this all mean?  It’s time to whip out comfort food recipes!
Nothing hugs the soul on a chilly day like buttery, cheesy goodness.

I can’t think of anything more “comforting” than a bowl of buttery noodles, swaddled in gooey cheese and topped with toasty bread crumbs.
I have a bunch of comfort recipes up my sleeve (mainly because they all look oh-so enticing when they pop up on my Pinterest board).  However, mac-and-cheese is the ULTIMATE comfort food, so I had to get this recipe out to you before Thanksgiving rolls around!

I tried recipes from some of my favorite blogs: The Cooking Actress, Martha Stewart, Brown Eyed Baker, and A Cup of Jo.
The winner of this Showdown was the Cooking Actress’ Brown Butter Mac and Cheese. It won me over with that lovely, nutty aroma of brown butter.  I got nervous when my dad said that it was “interesting” (he is quite the traditionalist, and “interesting” isn’t always great); however, he said that it was diffrerent in a good way.  The only change that I made to the Cooking Actress’ recipe was I used Honey Wheat Ritz crackers as opposed to regular Ritz.  The Honey Wheat crackers added a nice sweetness to the dish, which complemented the sharp cheddar and parmesan.

If you’ve got a family full of kids (or adults), this will be much appreciated at your Thanksgiving table.  As always, feel free to challenge my recipe!
What is your favorite comfort food?
With love,
Erica

oh-so cheesy


Description
It bakes up thick, cheesy and bubbly with a Ritz cracker crust. Completely irresistible, I tell you.
A baked mac and cheese with a Panko bread crumb crust.  (I omitted the pancetta for consistency)
Famously comforting with real bread crumbs and a dash of nutmeg.
Traditional, baked macaroni and cheese with nutty brown butter and a Ritz cracker crust.
Tasters’ notes
Too much pepper!

Funny taste
Good
Crunchy
Too many bread crumbs
Enjoyable
More traditional
Love the nutmeg!
Cheesy crust
Less cheese
Interesting
Different
Brown butter = yum!
Love that you used honey wheat Ritz, it adds sweetness!
Rating (best = 1)
4
3
2
1
I'm ready for my close-up
Ingredients:
  • 12 oz. pasta (I used a combination of elbow macaroni and egg noodles)
  • 6 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • heaping 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese 
  • heaping 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup buttery crackers, crushed (I used Honey Wheat Ritz)
  • 2 tbsp. melted butter
Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain.
In a medium saucepan, melt 6 tbsp. butter over medium heat. Whisk constantly as it foams and then small brown flecks form. Immediately whisk in flour.
Add milk and continue to whisk over medium heat until smooth and thickened.
Whisk in cheeses until smooth and not clumpy.
Turn off heat. Pour cheese over cooked macaroni.
Prepare a large casserole/baking dish by spraying with non-stick cooking spray. Pour macaroni and cheese in.
Stir 2 tbsp. butter with the crackers. Sprinkle over the top of the mac'n'cheese.
Bake on middle rack of your oven on broil for 5-8 minutes (watch carefully to make sure it doesn't burn!).
From the Cooking Actress

custard cornbread

When the air gets chilly, there is nothing I love more than a big, steamy bowl of my mom’s soup.  She makes ratatouille, chili, and minestrone. But my all time favorite is her butternut squash soup.  It is delicious on its own, but it’s absolutely perfect with a big wedge of custardy cornbread on the side.

It’s kind of a funny story how I found this recipe.  I was perusing the internet, the usual suspects (i.e. Pinterest and Foodgawker), and saw something strange, almost disgusting, and oh-so intriguing.  It was called spider cake. (perfect for Halloween right?!)
A cake with spiders in it? God I hope not!
A spider shaped cake? A spider shaped cake? Won’t that be hard to get out of the pan?
Soon enough, I found out that this cake has absolutely nothing to do with spiders. Whew. Because I am completely arachnophobic.

It’s actually a delicious cornbread with a lovely, custard filling.  Crumbly, buttery, and with a super-crisp outside.  Exactly how cornbread should be. I love how it gets baked in a cast iron skillet.  It makes me feel all nice and rustic.

A warm slice of this cake covered in maple syrup is about as good as it gets.

With love, Erica

Custard-Filled Cornbread (The Breakfast Book by Marion Cuningham)

  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square (or 9-inch round)
cake pan that is about 2-inches deep. Put the buttered dish or pan in
the oven and let it get hot while you mix the batter.
Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and add the melted butter. Beat until
the mixture is well blended. Add the sugar, salt, milk, and vinegar and
beat well. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, baking
powder and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, mix
just until the batter is smooth and no lumps remain.
Pour the batter into the heated dish, then pour the cream into the center of the batter—don’t stir. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve warm with maple syrup.