garlic chili paste

chili paste

We were sitting in an Asian restaurant here in Columbia. Andy ordered some kind of stir fried concoction with a sauce I’d never heard of and some kind of animal that still had its legs attached and I probably ordered the most basic thing on the menu. We had just started dating and I wasn’t exactly in tune with my Asian food-side yet (I say yet because now I love Asian food). I’m still, however, at a standoff with seafood. That junk is gross. Imagine. A foodie hating seafood. Just imagine it.

chili paste

Anyhow, we were in the restaurant. The waitress brought the food and Andy let out an immediate, “Oh, can I get some red chili paste to go with this?” and she scurried back to the kitchen and came back with a small bowl which she placed on the table. I stared at it like it was a bowl of beaming sunlight that I’d never experienced. Its bright, intensely contrasty red color had me fixated. It was beautiful. But I knew it was hot. Nothing with such a deep, flaming color can be mild. And my suspicions were confirmed when Andy barely dipped the end of his chopsticks into the bowl and stirred the attached paste into his meat and veggies. Hot it may be. Foul it is not.

chili paste

Chili paste like this gives your food a very powerful heat, but it doesn’t give your food an unwelcomed flavor like other hot sauces can. A little goes a long way and it bumps up the flavor (and heat) profile of stir fries, soups, sauces, and whatever else your heart desires. Heck, spread it straight on a cracker if you’ve got the guts to do so.

Note: Do not, I repeat, do not put your face down in the blender and take a big whiff to see how the chili paste is coming along. You may experience a bomb-like experience in your eyes and lungs. Some of us around here know from experience.

chili paste

garlic chili paste
total time: 5 minutes yield: 1/3 cup

1 cup chile peppers (I used cayenne)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
pinch of sea salt
1 tsp unrefined cane sugar
4 tbsp water
splash of sesame oil

Trim the stems from the chile peppers. Place the peppers in a blender or food processor along with the garlic, salt, sugar, and water. Blend until coarsely chopped. Add the sesame oil and blend until a paste is formed. Store chilled in an airtight container.
You can use a combination of different types of peppers if you’d like. Feel free to change up the amount of water and/or oil to achieve your desired consistency.

chili paste

frittata with bell peppers, bacon, and tomatoes


Several weekends ago I woke up with a start (I do this sometimes) because my belly was trying to tell me something: I was hungry.  It was already like eleven o’clock in the morning (Don’t tell my dad. He’s always made fun of my incessant sleeping. In college, it was not a rare occurrence for me to take three or more naps in any given 24 hour period.) and my husband and I had spent the entire day before moving mounds of chunked granite from our backyard to our front yard. Cereal wasn’t gonna cut it. Plus, our newly purchased house was so still and quiet when I awoke and the sunshine was trying so hard to beam through the little cracks in the window blinds that I felt like I needed to turn into a storybook princess and twirl around while opening the windows and sing while the little birds helped me pop the tablecloth and lay it gently on the tabletop. This was no morning for an ordinary breakfast.


A frittata seemed obviously perfect. I didn’t have much in our refrigerator (the unpacked boxes lying around the house demanded more of my attention at this point), but we did have eggs and a handful of random vegetables. And a frittata is one of those pretty foods, not even counting the fancy name, that you would expect to see on a brunch menu at a bistro. It’s hearty, but simple. And perfect for princess mornings with a not-so-stocked fridge.


frittata with bell peppers, bacon, and tomatoes
prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 15 minutes yield: 6 servings
3 strips bacon, cut into small pieces
1 medium tomato, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 cup diced bell pepper
6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup cheese, shredded (use whichever kind you prefer)

Preheat the oven to the low broil setting.
In a cast iron skillet (or an oven safe sauté pan), cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp. Add the tomato, onion, and bell pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
In the meantime, beat together the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and cheese in a medium bowl.
When the vegetables have turned soft, add the egg mixture and quickly combine the ingredients using a rubber spatula. Cook for 5 minutes or until the bottom is set and the top begins to set.
Transfer the skillet to the oven and broil for 4 to 5 minutes, until the top is set and begins to look fluffy.
Serve immediately.


sweet strawberry buttermilk biscuits


My name is Jessa. I have an infatuation with the American South. With grandmas sitting on porches. With surprise sercies. With sunrises hitting flour-dusted wooden tables. And, perhaps most notably, I have an infatuation turned obsession with biscuits.

This is the time I made strawberry ones.


sweet strawberry buttermilk biscuits
prep time: 15 minutes cook time: 20 minutes yield: 4-8 biscuits (depending on how big you cut them)
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup smashed, stemmed strawberries (about 5 berries)
2 tbsp unrefined cane sugar
3/4 cup cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400º. In a bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and  salt. Use your fingers to crumble the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
In another bowl, use a potato masher or fork to mash the strawberries until they are mostly liquified (leave a few small chunks). Mix the sugar into the smashed strawberries and let sit for five minutes. Add the buttermilk to the strawberries and stir to combine.
Make a well in the flour mixture and pour in the strawberry mixture. Mix with a spoon until just combined and use your hands to gather all of the flour.
Onto a floured surface, turn the dough out and knead (gently) until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Press the dough into a 1 inch thick circle and use a a biscuit cutter or something circular to press straight down into the dough and twist out the biscuits. Reshape the scraps to make more biscuits.
Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment so they just touch each other. Bake until they are lightly golden and tall, about 20 minutes.
Serve warm with a drizzle of honey.


crunchy vietnamese salad


Sometimes for dinner you eat steamed vegetables and grilled proteins and brothy soups. Sometimes you eat roasted sweet potatoes and a handful of legumes. Sometimes you eat an egg white omelet and sautéed spinach. But sometimes you eat French fries or a chocolate bar or manicotti swimming in a full-on, no-cutting-it-down-with-milk, gob-up-the-spoon cream sauce. I’ll admit. The manicotti happened last night. C’mon, though. It was Andy’s birthday and my metabolism can totally tell the difference in special occasion days and regular days.


…and then you realize the Calories Don’t Count During Celebrations/On the Weekends/Outside of Your Zip Code theories are actually myths and the next day you’re left reaching for something that doesn’t make your toes feel like a thousand pounds by the time you leave the table.


Andy has a very foodie (foodie is now an adjective?) aunt who always takes us on food adventures when we visit her in Atlanta. My first dim sum experience was with her. My first authentic Cuban meal was with her. Our last visit consisted of a relaxing visit to a (distinctively comforting) local Vietnamese restaurant, where we were quickly prompted to order the recommended green papaya salad. And, of course, I ordered pho to go along because, whoa. Spiced broth and noodles? Cant’ get enough of that stuff. The salad was very characteristic of traditional Vietnamese cuisine, famous for using fresh herbs and vegetables. It was bright, sweet, and crunchy, accompanied with an almost thirst-quenching quality.

This salad on HTF differs slightly from the restaurant salad I had (Let’s be honest. I was too lazy to hunt Columbia for green papaya. Also, this salad is a bit spicy), but it still stays true to the fresh brightness of its inspiration. So, if you feel like you’ve been eating too many chili cheese burgers or potato chips or handfuls of hamster feed, this may help perk you up a bit.


crunchy vietnamese salad
adapted from Food and Wine’s Crunchy Vietnamese Chicken Salad
yield: 4 servings total time: 15 minutes

2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Asian fish sauce
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 1/2 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp water
1 serrano chile with seeds, minced
1 small garlic clove, minced
4 cups finely shredded green cabbage (from 1/2 small head)
2 carrots, finely shredded
1 daikon radish, finely shredded
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp coarsely chopped unsalted roasted peanuts

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, vinegar, water, chile and garlic and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Let the dressing stand for 5 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss the cabbage, carrots, radish, red onion, cilantro, and mint. Add the olive oil and the dressing and toss. Sprinkle with the peanuts and serve.


After Andy and I had had our fill, we rolled the leftover salad up with some rice paper wrappers, served it alongside some homemade peanut sauce, and BAM! we had a whole other meal going on. And afterward, we didn’t feel like someone had pumped us full of greasy air, waiting in the wings to paint us with shortness of breath, all the while trying to plop a baby elephant on our vulnerable, slouching-down-in-the-chair stomachs. Whoa. I’m dramatic. But sometimes, in the midst of that, we just need a Vietnamese salad to come along and lift us up a little bit.

mrs. patmore’s rosemary oat crackers


I wanted to start this post with a way to immediately transition into talking about Downton Abbey, so I thought it would be relevant to mention the fact that my 23rd great grandfather was King Henry III. But then I decided that may be a bit haughty. And then I thought I could transition with telling you all that my 16th great grandmother was Elizabeth Woodville, Queen Consort of England or that my 12th great aunt was Catherine Howard (yeah, yeah, another queen). But then I thought, “…eh, boring.” And then I thought I would mention that most of my ancestors belonged to the Plantagenets and Arundels or that Elijah Robosson, Colonel in the American Revolution, was my fifth great grandfather. But I know you guys don’t want to hear about my (awesome) family. Besides, I’m no closer to living in Buckingham Palace than any other Joe Blow walkin’ down the street. Let’s talk a little Downton Abbey.

“What’s Downton Abbey?”

Screechy record sounds.


I’m sorry…what? What? It’s only the best, most tenaciously addicting show, a socially acceptable way to watch a soap opera, disguised with elaborate turn-of-the-20th-century fashion and extreme character development and a set design that is perfected by it being set, well, in a real castle. It’s a fascinating story of high society and working class people and, almost surprisingly, you, as the viewer, end up pulling for both sides to win in their separate and sometimes intertwining stories. I’m like an old soul when Sunday nights roll around. I’m glued to PBS, turning up the volume and sitting silently in case I miss some tiny detail that can change the whole meaning of the season’s story. I, undoubtedly, highly recommend it.


I remember watching the wedding episode (Mary and Matthew, of course) and feeling slightly restless when the kitchen was shown. Just imagine it. It’s the biggest wedding to-do anywhere around. VIPs, and I mean V-I-Ps, are arriving to celebrate. History is throwin’ itself down. And you’re the cook. The cook. And you are asked to make, not just a pan of BBQ or hamburgers kept warm with a dirty Sterno, but platters of luxuriously decorated roasted game and perfectly whipped sugared meringues and piping hot silky soup in the purest white and gold china available. Phew. And as much as I love making wedding cakes, I still stress with that one simple task. Props to Mrs. Patmore and her staff. Lots of props.


These crackers would have been made by Mrs. Patmore for guests and/or tea time. They’re not as crackerish as, say, a water cracker, but are a little more hearty, almost like a savory cookie. If you can remember back to when I was cooking a lot of Harry Potter recipes last year, you may remember the book The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. This recipe for Mrs. Patmore’s crackers is from The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook, having the same publisher as the Harry Potter book, and is written by Emily Ansara Baines. It’s totally cool and gives you recipes for each course for a typical dinner, plus a few recipes that the downstairs staff may have eaten. It’s awesome. Exercise that library card, kids.


mrs. patmore’s rosemary oat crackers
yield: 50-60 crackers
from Emily Ansara Baines’ The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp rosemary leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350º. Pulse oats in a food processor until chopped and fine. Add salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic powder, 1/4 cup flour, baking powder, and butter. Pulse until mixture turns into coarse bread crumbs. Pour in milk and pulse until the ingredients combine to form a dough, approximately 45 seconds.
With a rolling pin, roll dough until it’s 1/8-inch-thick on a lightly floured surface. Cut about 50-60 squares (or rounds). Place squares on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until crackers are lightly browned on the bottom. Transfer crackers to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before serving.
Note: My final product made a cracker that was hearty, but still a little fragile. I think these may be better for eating plain rather than using them to serve other items on, such as chicken salad or a heavy spread.


And now a shoutout to my twin who did a ton of family history research to find out that (switch to rich person voice) our family is royalty. (Switch out of rich person voice) Just kidding, y’all. But ancestral history is so neat and allows you to see how you got where you are now, whether your family is English or from Germany or even if your ancestry stops at a dirt road in the middle of South Carolina. Whoops, I just turned into an old soul again. It actually happens a lot. I’m okay with that.

turnip lentil soup


The names have been entered, the results are in, and the press is gettin’ hot. That’s right, y’all. It’s time to announce the winner of Heed the Feed’s very first giveaway! Enter crowd applause sound bite here. Wait. I just have to say that I’m so pumped that so many of you wanted to participate and so pumped that you’ve shown so much love to Loveland Coffee. Cheers to you guys.


Clears throat. And now, without any further hesitation, the winner of a pound of whole bean espresso and a pound of whole bean Ethiopian Yirgacheffe AND the title of HTF’s first ever giveaway winner goooes tooooo:

Gwynne Middleton! And check out her own personal food blog at The Crafty Cook Nook!

Super crowd applause sound bite! Congratulations! I know you will enjoy your new roasts.


I figured before I skedaddled on out of here, I’d leave you guys with a recipe (this is a food blog, non?). My momma-in-law recently joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture) and invited my husband and me to join in the fun. We used to be a part of one, but for some reason could never keep up with the very large amounts of produce we were receiving each week and ended up composting a lot of it. But this CSA has half baskets, allowing smaller families to participate and helping them to not drown in the season’s finest.


If you’re not familiar with CSAs, they are super cool. It’s basically a weekly share from a local farm (or farms) that includes fruits and vegetables that change fairly often. For example, if you received a basket of goodies from a farmer during a South Carolina summer, you’d probably receive corn, peaches, and squash. A winter basket may include kale, broccoli, or carrots. Our CSA is cool and usually throws in something that will make your head tilt for a few seconds. This past week was turnips. I like turnips. Turnips are cool. But I’ve only ever done one thing with turnips: roasted them. Tasty, but a bit boring this go around. I needed something new. I found a recipe online utilizing turnips in my favorite food group: soup. Hehh. And turnips are kind of nutritionally neutral. They are certainly not bad for you, though, and, in fact, have a good amount of vitamin C in them. So there. I just argued with myself. But you guys also know from a previous post that lentils love humans. They are the bomb powerhouse food. So…there.


turnip lentil soup
prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 40 minutes yield: 8 servings
adapted from Whole Living’s Red Lentil Soup with Turnip and Parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 celery stalks, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 cups dried lentils
3 turnips, peeled and diced
8 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar (optional)
Coarse salt and pepper

In a pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Increase heat to high and add tomatoes. Cook for 1 minute. Add lentils, turnip, and stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, 30 or so minutes. Stir in parsley and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.


And, YES, you CAN cook those greens growing on that turnip root! And those babies really do have lots of good nutrients in them. They have a boatload of vitamins and no saturated fat. That is, until you add butter and bacon grease. Wink, American Southeast, wink, wink.


P.S. Loveland Coffee is now open at 7001 St. Andrews Road in Columbia, SC.

whole wheat fettuccine with pumpkin cream sauce

Our little Honda is currently rolling down I-85 as we head back to Columbia from one of the most beautiful places on Earth (the Apps in the Western Carolinas, y’all). Hats off to Andy’s cousin and family for hosting a really great wedding filled with lots of abundant food. That being said, I find it really difficult to write while riding in a car (and it’s really difficult when I’m actually driving…totally kidding). I get distracted rather easily, so it’s kind of like, “Focus…focus…Oh, this is a really good song…Focus…focus…Oh, this is a really bad song…Focus…focus….Dude, that car totally just tried to hit us…less focused…What kind of food do we have in here?…not at all focused …” And that’s about how it happens every time.

So, let me just say that this second recipe in the pumpkin series was an experiment I wanted to try because, as you all know, I really just love pasta. I think I’ve hit you guys with way too many pasta/cream-based sauce recipes, but here’s one more. Picture me timidly sliding it across the table at you as I shrug my shoulders and give you a fabricated little side grin. Oh, well. Bon appétit, anyway.

whole wheat fettuccine with pumpkin cream sauce
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 15 minutes yield: 4 servings
1/2 pound whole wheat fettuccine noodles
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups roasted pumpkin purée
1/2 cup parmesan, shredded

Cook pasta according to package directions in salted, boiling water. Drain.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. In a sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute or until aromatic. Stir in the cream and salt and pepper to taste. Allow to simmer until reduced and thickened slightly, about 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin purée and heat through. Add the parmesan and stir until melted and everything is heated and incorporated. Turn the pasta into the sauce and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

And we all remember the benefits of whole wheat, yes? It helps you feel fuller longer, yes? Your body can more easily digest it, yes? It gives you more consistent energy levels, yes? Good. Dismissed.

PS – Kenny: I would give you some advice for your trip/move, but you’re a lot cooler than I am, so I know you already know how to throw it down out West. Have fun.

gouda macaroni and cheese

We have this place in Columbia called The Whig. The Whig is, well…hmm. It’s a bar, but not a bar. It’s a restaurant, but…not really a restaurant. Unless you were walking past the State House and just happened to slip on the sidewalk down its stairs into the basement-like alley lined with one door adorned with no signs that looks like the backside of a New York City fish market, you’d probably never know it was there. You would, of course, know it was there if you were at least a bit cooler than the rest of the city or, strangely enough, if you were a bit less cool than the rest of the city. What I mean to say is, if you wear one shoe untied and drink craft beer and listen to vinyls while riding your bike, you’d love the Whig. On the other hand, if you’re just a tad quieter and love to listen to conversation and need to feel a bit disconnected from the normal Columbia, the Whig is a nice haven to quench the crave for a bit of quirk. Plus, they have excellent food at really frugal prices.

One of my favorite dishes of theirs is the Gouda Mac N Cheese. It’s actually listed in the starter section of the menu, but it arrives at the table in a huge rimmed bowl filled with a simple combination of pasta and sauce. It’s so generously goopy that each piece of pasta is smothered with the rich blend of gouda and cream. It’s not baked like some mac and cheeses. One could never ever describe this as being dry. The dish almost reminds me of a plate of pasta with alfredo, just amped up a bit. Lawd, it’s delicious.

gouda macaroni and cheese
inspired by The Whig’s gouda mac n cheese in Columbia, SC
prep time: 5 minutes cook time: 15 minutes yield: 6 servings

12 oz whole wheat elbows
8 oz gouda
4 tbsp unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz heavy cream
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, bring about 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Stir in the elbows and cook for about 10 minutes or to desired tenderness.
While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce. Shred the gouda and set aside. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Stir in the heavy cream and add salt and pepper. When it starts simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the sauce thickens and reduces by about half, about 10 minutes. Add the gouda and stir until completely melted.
Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Pour the gouda sauce over the pasta and stir until thoroughly combined. Serve immediately.

We had my sister’s bachelorette party at the Whig. The party consisted of a whopping three people with quite a few others there in spirit, but it was perfect. I’m guessing the tiny venue used to be a bank because they have a little cave in the corner that I believe was probably a safe at some point. Its three walls are lined with very worn, slouchy couches and dusty vintage lighting dimly brightens the space and stuffed animals (no, not Teddy Ruxpin, like foxes that were once alive and are now stuffed) chill next to the ceiling. It provides a very private atmosphere (appropriate for girly bachelorette gifts), but you can still hear the music and order pizzas and sandwiches and drinks. The whole place is just smokin’ with vibe and jives and the eel’s hips, my man. Legit chillin’.

miniature fried green tomatoes

Outside of my grandmother’s back door is a little space that holds a goldfish pond, a few chairs, a porch swing, and a teensy little garden she keeps in large flowerpots. The last time I was over there, she was poking at one of her cherry tomato plants with a scrunched up face that obviously said, “Why won’t these little boogers turn red?” After she repositioned the pots a little and refreshed the sun-drenched soil, she explained that they’d grown up really nicely and then they’d decided to plateau in that milky (yet beautiful) green stage that tomatoes go through.

“I’m just gonna show ’em who’s boss and toss ’em in a fryin’ pan and make fried green tomato bites. Hmph.”

Light bulb.

After we realized that that actually was a good idea, she tossed a handful in my car and I drove off, ready to experiment with those in-between tomatoes and thinking about how cute they’d be sitting next to a tiny piece of fried chicken or a miniature biscuit.

This is just a fun post. I don’t expect that any store will sell green cherry tomatoes, but if you have a garden and have some little tomatoes that haven’t quite grown up yet, you could try this just for kicks.

miniature fried green tomatoes
prep time: 20 minutes cook time: 4 minutes yield: 2 servings
8 green cherry tomatoes
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
freshly ground black pepper
cayenne pepper, to taste
1/2 cup buttermilk
peanut oil, enough to cover the bottom of a skillet

Slice the tomatoes to about 1/4 inch thickness and sprinkle each slice with salt. Place in a colander and allow the salt to drain the water from the tomatoes, about 20 minutes. Less moisture will result in a crispier fried tomato.
While the tomatoes are draining, mix the flour, baking powder, pepper, and cayenne in a bowl until combined. Add the oil to a skillet over medium-high heat.
Dip the tomato slices in the buttermilk and then dredge in the flour mixture. Add a small slice to the oil to test the temperature. If the tomato simply sits and nothing happens, the oil is not hot enough. If the oil bubbles up around the tomato, add the others. Fry for only a couple of minutes until golden brown and drain on a plate lined with paper towels.

Alright, y’all, I’ve gotta run. The Gamecocks are playing in the College World Series in just a few and I’ve gotta go get my rally cap ready.

roasted chicken panini with pistachio pesto and mozzarella

I’m back, I’m back, I’m back! I’m back in Columbia after the most had-to-be-pretend, enchanting, bring me to my knees and force me to be a five-year-old trip to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Somehow, despite them plopping me down in 30,000 of the most magical acres on the planet, they expected me to learn about food blogging and concentrate on presentations given by the most knowledgeable and successful experts in the field. I’m totally kidding. Not about the experts part. They really were experts. No, I had so much fun listening and taking notes and soaking up information from these greats. I kept saying to myself while listening, “I’m totally dreaming, right? My dog is gonna wake me up barking to go outside in about five seconds, right?” How thankful am I that these wonderful professionals wanted to spare these elevating morsels? I can’t give enough standing ovations to the sponsors (KitchenAid, Whole Foods Market, Land O Lakes, OXO, and more), the host (Walt Disney World Resort), the coordinators (Julie Deily of the little kitchen and Jaden and Scott Hair of Steamy Kitchen), and the speakers (Diane Cu and Todd Porter of White on Rice Couple, Rachel Barbarotta of The Fabulous Foodie, Arianna Bastianini from OXO, Tom Smith from WDWR, David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria, and Dawn Viola, research chef and food writer).

One of the things I learned from Diane and Todd was to share my story. The food I make is the result of my personal journey. Yeah, yeah, going food sappy on y’all, but it’s true. I make recipes that mean something to me, that pluck a heart string, that make a memory resonate, that mirror my current feelings or environment. Can I share something with you? Right now my mind is wrestling with my finger to hit the delete key and shouting, “Abort! Abort!”, but I think some readers will say, “Yes. I’m not alone.” I struggle pretty often with anxiety and depression, no beating around the bush. I can’t say exactly what triggers it, only because I’m honestly unsure, but it seems to hover around changes in my life. Don’t get me wrong. If someone said, “You and your husband have to travel 364 out of 365 days in the year.”, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s not that I don’t like changes, but my body knows it’s stressed long before I actually realize it. And when it does trigger, well, it’s basically and frankly…not fun. My mind tells me it’ll never end and I feel like I’m trapped in a cage and every way I turn looks the same and it seems there’s no escape.

Whoa, Nellie, a little bit of a downer, hey? I’m done with the dark statements. But when this does happen (like it did right after we left Orlando, you caught me, we actually returned last week), my passions and cares usually go out the window for a while. Forget running, forget cooking, and writing? Yeah. Right. And I’m not telling you this for a bunch of hoobaloo or fluff or because I’m randomly throwing part of my story out into the world wide web. I think it’s relevant to my food life and I think some of you guys can relate.

So, now I’m feeling back to normal and started having a longing to cook a couple of days ago. With a tired brain and body, I wanted something simple, yet comforting. Something with gooey cheese. I remembered! My brand new, beautiful blue panini press from Le Creuset! I bought four new Le Creuset pieces with my Stonyfield/Organic Valley/Wholesome Wave prize money and have been waiting for the right moment to initiate them into my kitchen. A grilled panini sounded ideal. Y’all. I have so much to be thankful for. Thank you, Jesus, for opportunities and resources.

roasted chicken panini with pistachio pesto and mozzarella
yield: 4 paninis prep time: 10 minutes cook time: 45 minutes
2 chicken breasts, bone in and skin on
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup roasted pistachios, shelled
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
pinch of salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 slices whole wheat bread
8 oz fresh mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350º. Place the chicken, breast side up, on a baking sheet. Coat evenly with the olive oil and sprinkle generously with the salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165º. After the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and tear the meat from the bones. Slice the meat with a knife and set aside.
To make the pesto, use a sharp knife to finely chop the basil, pistachios, and garlic. Place in a bowl and add the Parmesan and salt. Stir. Gradually add the olive oil, mixing vigorously, until it reaches your desired consistency.
Heat the grill pan and panini press (I used a cast iron pan with two separate pieces. You can actually heat the oil-free press directly on your stove’s eye) over medium heat. While those are preheating, assemble the sandwich. Using two slices of bread, spread 2 tablespoons of pesto and slice about an ounce of mozzarella for each slice of bread. Top one slice with the prepared roasted chicken. Close the sandwich and brush each side with olive oil to prevent sticking. Place the sandwich in the heated pan and press down with the heated press. Release the pressure and, keeping the press on, cook for about 3 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and mozzarella is melted.

I wish I could dedicate a whole post with only the words thank and you to the people of Food Blog Forum. I sincerely thank you for taking me up and letting me learn and for putting me in great hands. I met really neat people (Kim with The Suburban Cook, Sam with Sweet Remedy, Jacqueline with Beyond Infinity, and Erica with Erica’s Sweet Tooth, just to name a small few) with incredible talents and I feel like I have some great tools to keep moving forward. And I know my husband, twin sister, and her husband are so grateful as well. We felt so on top of the world and created some of our best memories yet (for some pictures of the conference as well as fun times in the parks, check out my Facebook page! It was the best and I don’t see how you guys are gonna top it! Oh! And guess what?! I met Mickey!