Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “dessert”

31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

31-recipe challenge Day 20: Butterscotch pudding and Liebster Blog Award

Before we get started, I’d like to note that it is February 28, and it is the final day of my 31-recipe challenge, and my final day of cooking. I have a few more posts to get out to be all caught up, but this is it. I want it on record that I HAVE made all 31 (well, 30) recipes in the 28 days of February. In the words of Top Chef, at the end of today it’s “knives down, hands up.” Done-zo.

But until then…

I was so excited to make this pudding. Butterscotch pudding…are there any two more beautifully paired words in the English language?

Butterscotch pudding, when done right, is one of those things you find yourself daydreaming about, craving at any hour. Basically, it’s heaven in a bowl…

…until I lay my hands on it. I had such high hopes for this one, and it came out, well, a flop. Now, the recipe from Jennifer at Foodess is not to blame; her pudding looked DIVINE. My ineptitude with anything remotely dessert-y is to blame here. It’s a vicious curse, really…a woman with a sweet tooth as voracious as mine can’t make dessert. That’s irony. (I’m 0 for 2 on puddings here; they are clearly not my forte. Remember the bread pudding?)

To be honest, I have no idea where this began going downhill. I followed the recipe exactly (I didn’t even halve it!), and when I put the finished pudding in the fridge, it seemed fine.  But when I went to taste-test hours later, the texture was totally off-putting. It was gritty, grainy and curdled (ugh!).The one good thing, at least, was the flavor. (Thank you very much, Johnnie Walker Black Label. Good scotch=good butterscotch.)

butterscotch puddingIt still looked nice. I can pretend, can’t I?

Sure, I had encountered some curdling through the cooking process, but I didn’t freak…Jenn said that may happen, and if so, just our through a strainer before storing in the fridge. I guess mine wasn’t fine-meshed enough, or the curdling continued during refrigeration. I’m not sure. As for the grittiness…I got nothing. The caramel/butterscotch base (i.e., the molten sugar) was smooth and creamy, not grainy and sugary, so that’s not to blame. I’m out.

My one true disaster actually occurred early on. My successful caramel was actually my second attempt–my first attempt burnt to a crisp and filled my apartment with smoke. My eyes were burning, my dog was whimpering, I was running around half-blinded to open all the windows in the vicinity. At one point, I thought turning on the ceiling fan in the kitchen would help, but instead it just blew the burnt-sugar smoke into the living room, the foyer, the hallway. The dog and I took refuge in the bathroom (the only safe place) until we could breathe and see again. That was tragic, and nearly ruined the saucepan. (Two days of soaking, scrubbing and boiling water later, it’s like new!)

Needless to say, I watched round two like a hawk–at exactly that five-minute mark, off the heat. And it was lovely.

Anyway, let’s move on from this disaster that was (not) butterscotch pudding.

On Tuesday, I received the Liebster Blog Award from Sherry at Cafe Vita! I’m so excited! My little blog finally got noticed, and this is my first-EVER blogging award! The Liebster Blog Award is given to new bloggers that only have about 200 followers. “Liebster” is German for dearest, loveliest or favorite.

liebster-blog-2

There are some rules to accepting this award:
1. Each awarded blogger will post 11 random facts about themselves
2. 11 questions provided by the sender have to be answered
3. 11 new bloggers have to be chosen to which the award will be passed on
Go to their pages, tell them about the award and pass on the link to your post!
So it is kind of a blogger chain mail. This is a nice way to hep promote new blogs and to  get to know the owners.

So here it goes: 11 random facts about me:
1. I graduated Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies and a minor in Spanish.
2. While there, I also seriously considered minoring in dance (and auditioned to).
3. I currently live with my mother and my English Pointer named Nikki, and occasionally my younger sister. Four months ago, we moved out of the house we lived in for 21 years.
4. But, within the next two months, I will be living with my boyfriend Kevin and his/our yellow lab, Mackenzie.
5. I hate mushrooms.
6. I’ve lived in five different towns in New Jersey and one city in Spain (Valencia).
7. I am absolutely terrified of needles and crickets.
8. I’m very short. I’m just barely 5’1″ with shoes on.
9. By day, I work as a writer and web site administrator for a national political and  public opinion polling company.
10. I’ve been a dancer since I was three years old.
11. I dye my hair. I’m a natural brunette, but dye it red.

So now is the time to pass this award along!
I looked through Facebook, Twitter and WordPress to find up-and-coming blogs I enjoy and who’s work I want to promote. I noticed these blogs and would like to pass the award on to them.  This is a vehicle to help you connect with other new bloggers and to mutually encourage one another.  Have fun! (Confession: I may or may not be fudging a bit, since I’m not entirely sure how many followers some of these blogs have.)

Treats and Trinkets (so many sweets! I’ll leave the desserts to her! And she’s a Jersey girl!)
Our Dinner Table (another Jersey girl! You know I love it!)
Down-Home South Jersey (THREE Jersey girls! Clearly NJ is the place for awesome food bloggers!)
Heike Herrling …but it tasted good (such beautiful, creative dishes!)
Crostini and Chianti (is that a blog title or an invitation? Because, yes please!)

These were the 11 questions asked by Sherry at Cafe Vita:
1.  Where do you live NOW? 15 minutes away from my old house, right on the Jersey Shore
2.  What made you decide to blog? I was unhappy with where my life was 13 months ago, and I wanted to do something for me. I had toyed with the idea for a few weeks, so I just decided to jump in and do it.
3.  What was the number one tool that helped you get started? I’m not really sure how to answer that…Wordpress?
4.  Share a blog address that INSPIRED you. The Lean Green Bean. She’s an inspirational health, fitness, food and nutrition blogger. She gets me off my couch! http://www.theleangreenbean.com/
5.   What are your goals for your blog? I hope to reach out to people who share my passion for food, cooking and nutrition and I hope to expand my readership beyond my parents and my really bored friends.
6.  How do you take your photos? Badly! Haha…on an iPhone (I knoooow). I try to set up some good lighting and staging, usually on my well-lit end table in my living room. Then I edit in PicStitch.
7.  How much time do you spend per day/week on your blog or Facebook interactions? That really varies. This month, about an hour a day. Other times, much less.
8.  What do you like most in a blog post from others? Humor, relatability, honesty, personal anecdotes and pretty photos.
9.  What are other hobbies that you have besides blogging? Theater and dance, nutrition, yoga
10. Favorite blog? Peas and Crayons…she nails the factors I mentioned in #8, and sometimes I believe we’re kindred spirits.
11. Favorite ingredient? That’s such a tough call…fresh basil or cilantro or ginger. And red wine. And black pepper. And peas. OK, that was more than one…

Congratulations to all the recipients, it was well deserved! Now, here are my 11 questions for YOU!

1. What’s the best advice you would like to receive from an established blogger?
2. What’s the best advice you would give to a new blogger?
3. What is your favorite cocktail/beverage?
4. Favorite guilty pleasure food?
5. Favorite television show?
6. Why did you start blogging?
7. If you could have dinner with anyone from history, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you ask?
8. Who’s your main taste tester/critic/support system?
9. What’s your occupation?
10. What’s the biggest disaster you’ve ever had in the kitchen?
11. It’s almost spring! What’s the thing your most excited about heading into spring?

Now it’s your turn! Copy and paste these questions into a new post and answer them, and then pass along the award to 11 more well-deserving bloggers! Have fun!

And a major thanks again to Sherry from Cafe Vita for passing this award to me!

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 3–Super Bowl Sunday!

If you remember my Super Bowl post from last year, you know I like to throw a Super Bowl party. This year was no different, except Kevin hosted and I had even better recipes to work with.

The Super Bowl menu? Beer and bacon butter beans, four-cheese macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie bread pudding. Plus, Kevin made chicken fajitas and pigs in blankets.

Yes, this was a far departure from Day 2’s vegetarian recipes.

On to the recipes! First let’s start with the one I know you’re all looking at–Beer and Bacon Butter Beans. Let me repeat that one. Beer. And Bacon. Can you think of a better football food? I used this recipe from Crepes of Wrath and pretty much didn’t change a damn thing.

Despite the beer and bacon (or should I say, THANKS TO the beer and bacon), this is actually a very complex and sophisticated side dish, especially thanks to the whole sprig of rosemary that goes in. But seriously, just in case you had any doubt that beans slow-cooked in beer and bacon fat would be delicious, these were drool-worthy. I’ve never appreciated a plate of beans so much. And puff-pastry wrapped pigs in a blanket were a much better franks-and-beans accompaniment than plain old hot dogs.

Beer and bacon butter beans

As much of a bacon lover as I am (and I’m a huge bacon lover), I rarely cook it. Sunday I cooked it. A lot of it. 8 thick-cut strips, to be exact. And I chopped it first. I never want to do that again. Trying to cut through thick, chewy, raw bacon fat can make you never want to eat bacon again. (OK, that’s not true. But it doesn’t make you want to prep it again.)

But once that starts cooking, it’s a whole different story. The salty, smoky, bacon-y smell fills the kitchen, and all is right with the world.

Then, you strain out the bacon and cook the beans IN THE BACON FAT. Add chicken stock, lemon juice, honey, a whole bottle of malty amber ale (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale), spices and a sprig of rosemary, and pop that bad boy in the oven for a solid two hours. Then top with crispy bacon. 1) your house will smell amazing and 2) what comes out at the end of those two hours is well worth the wait.

I can’t believe I’m waxing poetic about baked canellini beans, but these beans were off-the-wall good. Granted, cook anything in bacon fat and beer and it will probably be off-the-wall good.

I’ll put it to you another way: my friend J, who still doesn’t even consider beans a viable food group, said these were good. That’s, like, Kevin loving the sweet potato tacos huge! (This has been a pretty good weekend!) Heck, the fact that he even willingly ATE the beans was a good enough compliment for me.

UPDATE: In hindsight, I realize I skipped the very last step of the recipe, which is to stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter once the beans come out of the oven. Oh well, I didn’t miss it.

For dinner, I made Four-Cheese Baked Rigatoni from How Sweet It Is. I’ve made TONS of macaroni and cheese in my day–it’s almost become a staple for me–but this one was unique. In addition to cheddar, fontina and gruyere, this mac and cheese uses 1/3 cup of mascarpone, which is super luscious and creamy and smooth. And, as she warns, does give the mac and cheese extra oiliness, though not in a bad way. I’ve had mac and cheese like this before, and the extra oil actually lent itself well to reheating. It’s super gooey and cheesy. I used fat rigatoni noodles, like the recipe originally called for, which trapped lots of extra cheese sauce inside.

3-cheese mix

Come. To. Mama.

Although, I didn’t have any panko bread crumbs on hand, so I used regular whole wheat ones, which were fine. I also subbed a pinch of dried mustard seed for the nutmeg, since one of my friends in attendance has a nutmeg allergy. (The goal is to not kill people.)

One interesting thing about this day was that a sort of theme emerged: one pot wonders that I turned into two-pot wonders. You see, both the beans and the mac and cheese were supposed to go from stove to oven in the same cooking vessel: the beans in an oven-safe pot or deep pan, the macaroni in a cast iron skillet. I do not own either of those things (sadly), so for the beans, I cooked everything in a deep pan and transferred into a covered deep casserole dish to bake. I cooked the macaroni and cheese in the same deep pan and transferred to a traditional casserole dish to bake. I really need to get my hands on a cast iron skillet, because as ooey-gooey and lovely as that mac and cheese was, I bet it would be incredible in cast iron.

Mac and cheese

Then came dessert. Let’s just say I’m really glad someone brought cookies. I was probably the least impressed with this of everyone who ate it, but then again, I am always my own worst critic. I’m also picky about my bread pudding. I made this gorgeous-looking Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding with Bourbon Icing from Eats Well With Others. (Well, hers was gorgeous-looking.)

It wasn’t a terrible recipe, I think I just executed it wrong. Though granted, three pounds of butternut squash to one pound of bread in a bread pudding does seem a tad imbalanced. I’d probably recommend trying something closer to a one-to-one ratio.

When the finished product came out of the oven (after it baked for way longer than called for yet barely felt done), there were more chunks of hard, raw squash than soft, melty baked ones. And the inside was decidedly, well, mushy. Too mushy for my taste. Not so bad for a bread pudding, but, like I said, I’m picky. I feel like if this was perhaps baked in individual-sized ramekins rather than one large springform, it would be more up my alley–lots of crispy outside and a semi-liquid center that’s still mostly baked.

There are a few things I think contributed to my underwhelming result: For one, I’m assuming I didn’t pre-cook the squash long enough on the stove, though I feel like I let it go even longer than the recipe called for. Also, while the recipe called for a 10-inch springform, I only had a 9 1/2-inch. So although I left some filling behind,  perhaps I still overstuffed the pan, leading to the longer-than-called for baking time.

I also made a couple of *slight* tweaks to the recipe, but I doubt they were disaster inducing: again, I cut the nutmeg so as not to send anyone to the hospital, and I subbed one cup of almond milk and two cups of regular milk (1%) for the three cups of almond milk because I didn’t have enough on hand.

Nonetheless, this is definitely one I won’t be making again, even though Kevin wants me to re-attempt it with apples in place of the squash. This one brought me back down to earth a little bit–I was getting pretty confident in my baking skills after the pizza dough victory on Day 1, but this proved I’m really still not a baker. I’m gonna stay on the stove top where I belong.

However, it wasn’t all a bust. There was that bourbon icing. Oh man, that icing. I don’t even like bourbon and I couldn’t stop stealing tastes of this stuff. Which was bad, because I’m on antibiotics and not allowed to have alcohol!

Pumpkin pie bread pudding w/ bourbon icing

But if you need a dessert topping for, well, pretty much anything, throw this together! A stick of butter, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons bourbon. Whisk and imbibe. And to get it more glaze-y and less icing-y, just pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Because, dude, you want this icing on EVERYTHING. It was pretty good on the cookies, I was told. (I had eaten enough off the spoon by that point, I figured it was better if I cut myself off.)

I’m exhausted just writing this, so it’s no surprise I nearly forgot to cook on Monday. (Don’t worry, I did!)

An Anniversary and an Announcement!

I can’t even believe it, but Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness is ONE YEAR OLD today! Holy cow!

One year ago today, I decided, partially on a whim, to start a food blog. My life wasn’t where I wanted it to be, so I figured, why not do something I want, then? Something that’s entirely in my control.

Looking back, a year doesn’t seem that long. But then when I look at where I was a year ago compared to where I am today, it seems like an eternity. A year ago, I was out of work, so I was serving at a Cuban restaurant full-time. While I loved my coworkers and the atmosphere and even some of the customers, overall I hated the job. I was unhappy. And I remember sitting in front of the heating vent in my old house, watching the Food Network, which inspired my very first post.

Today, a year later, I am working full-time (at my old job, in political polling), I’ve moved out of the house I grew up in and I am looking into moving again.

Hurricane Sandy happened, and I learned to truly be thankful for what I have and to count my blessings. We were incredibly lucky–we only lost power for a few days and a few (recovered) pieces of siding off our chimney. Walking out your door and seeing the extent of the destruction right in front of you, seeing beaches you grew up on decimated, is an unimaginably eye-opening experience. It’s easy to forget the fragility in life.

So, clearly, some major life changed have happened this year, and this blog was one of them. So here’s to 2013 at LLPF–it can only get even better!

*********

But now, on that note, I have a big birthday announcement to make! I’m taking on a new project here at the blog, and I figured there’s no better time to announce that than on the first anniversary!

Starting next month, I am going to undertake a 31-recipe challenge. Over the month of February, I will cook each and every dish on this list (thank you, Buzzfeed!) I will not make any more than *minor* substitutions. That is, even though I don’t like beets, I will make and try the beet salad. Even though I rarely eat fish and have never, ever prepared it, I will make miso-glazed cod. Because, when all is said and done, I might just discover that I enjoyed it!

I’m doing this for several reasons:
1. These recipes look damn delicious.
2. Accountability and a constant content source–I have been far too intermittent with this blog at times, between all the other things going on in my life (work, moving, Sandy, repeatedly involving myself in theater productions [sorrynotsorry]), but this will give me a) a consistent flow of recipes and experiences to blog about and b) accountability. I said I’m going to do this, and I will!
3. An opportunity to expand my horizons, both in the kitchen and at the table–There are plenty of things in here I have never, ever cooked before (braised short ribs, most desserts, soup) and things I never eat/don’t like/haven’t tried. But by cooking all of these recipes, as is, I will be learning new things in the kitchen and trying new foods or rediscovering old foods I didn’t think I liked. And if I still don’t like it in the end, so be it. But I may discover I like things I didn’t before.

So, there you have it. I know the list says “31 Things to Cook in January,” but I’m waiting to start until February because, well, it’s already 10 days into January, so that’s valuable time lost. Also, I’m starting tech week for a play this weekend (yeah, yeah, another one!) so my cooking time will be pretty much minimal.

I hope you’re all as excited for this as I am! I can’t wait to start!

Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year! (And Chocolate Truffles!)

I’ve been away quite a while, so I wanted to make sure I got all of my holiday wishes in there. With a new year, hopefully, comes an opportunity to blog again, now that my life is somewhat settling into order.

Lots of things happened since we last met.  Biggest of all is I moved. Now that I’m settled into the new digs, I have a new (and unfortunately much smaller) kitchen, but I’m learning to work with it. (For now, anyway–I’ll be moving again in a few months.)

New kitchen

I also received an awesomely nerdy, foodie Christmas gift that I’m so excited to share with you! (If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may already know what this is!)

Dorothy Wizard of Oz apron

For those who don’t know, I’m a HUGE Wizard of Oz fan, and when I saw this apron in a local shop, I *had* to have it. So there it was, waiting for me on Christmas morning, thanks to Kevin’s brother! Now I can pretend I’m on my way to Oz AND stop ruining my good t-shirts!

Anyhow…back to the food: what did you guess I’d be making with that big batch of chocolate ganache I showed you last week? If you guessed I’d make it into truffles, good for you! Or, you follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and already saw what I made. If not, then 1) you should follow me and 2) let me know what you guessed, because I’d love new ideas!

I did indeed make a big batch of Christmas truffles (I gave them away as gifts because Kevin has a huge family), but you could make these any time of the year, and add any flavors or toppings you want.

For my Christmas truffles, I just made a basic chocolate truffle and rolled them in crushed peppermint, cocoa powder and cinnamon (think spicy Mexican hot chocolate), but you could totally add different extracts–or booze–to infuse a new flavor in, and you can roll them in just about anything you want: colored sugar, powdered sugar, spices, nuts, espresso, etc.

(P.S. Some flavor infusion ideas/substitutions: mint extract, coffee extract or strong espresso, Kahlua, rum or rum extract, Bailey’s, raspberry liquor, orange liquor, mint or cinnamon schnapps)

*NOTE: This recipe yields roughly 100 truffles (give or take depending on the size you make them.) I tripled and adapted an original recipe I had found on allrecipes.com (I had a LOT of family to feed!) If you feel like that’s a *tad* too many truffles, go ahead and halve it, third it, whatever.

Truffles

Basic chocolate truffles (adapted from Allrecipes.com)

36 ounces of good chocolate*
1 cup heavy cream
3 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt

1. Add cream and 1/3 to 1/2 the chocolate to a medium saucepan. Bring to medium heat, stirring constantly. Add the rest of the chocolate in gradually, stirring until smooth. **Watch this carefully, as it can burn quickly.**

2. Once the chocolate mixture is smooth, remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla and the salt.

3. Transfer ganache to a medium bowl and refrigerate 1-2 hours (or more if necessary–you want it solid, but scoopable.) Stir halfway through, if possible.

4. Once ganache is cooled, scoop out small sections and roll into a ball. Roll in desired topping and refrigerate again to re-solidify.

Don’t fret if they’re not perfectly spherical. The perfectionist in me wanted perfect, round, restaurant-quality truffles, but the realist in me (the half that was already getting frazzled and realized it was the day before Christmas Eve) wanted as stress-free of an experience as possible. And you know what? Not stressing over making them perfect was the best decision I ever made. Because it simply wasn’t going to happen, and I would’ve made myself crazy. Besides, imperfection is beautiful!

*Note: I used Ghirardelli chocolate, half bittersweet and half semi-sweet. You can use all bittersweet or all semi-sweet or another ratio based on your palate. You may need to add sugar to taste, as well. I also used a combination of chocolate chips and chopped up chocolate bars to ensure an even consistency.

My chocolate mix: 50-50 Ghirardelli semi-sweet and bittersweet

Chopped chocolate

Chocolate ganache

Truffle assemble line--ganache, peppermint, baking sheet with finished truffles

If you want to roll your truffles in peppermint, you’ll need to make a peppermint powder, basically. This could be done the old-fashioned way withe a mallet or rolling pin and a zip-top bag, but I found a Magic Bullet (or food processor) works much more efficiently. Throw in some whole peppermint candies (or broken up candy canes), whir for a few seconds and, voila! Peppermint powder.

Peppermint powder-making

By the way, if you have extra of this, keep it. It mixes nicely into hot cocoa or coffee, or you can use it in place of sprinkles on ice cream and other desserts! YUM!

And there you have it! These make great gifts, or a decadent treat for any occasion. And even though these are super easy to make, there’s an elegance and sophistication associated with truffles, so everyone will think you’re simply amazing for making these from scratch! (No one has to know how insanely simple it was!)

If you want to give these as gifts, like I did, find a pretty little box, some fun tissue paper and some festive mini paper cupcake (or candy) cups. I got boxes at the dollar store that were shiny and Christmasy, along with sparkly tissue paper. (Just make sure if you’re using something sparkly that there’s either tissue or paper cups between the truffles and the sparkles, or else you’ll end up eating glitter.)

Or, of course, you know, you could always NOT give these away and keep these rich little gems for yourself. (I’m in full support of that option!)

So, again, I hope everyone had a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I’ll see you around more in 2013!

Guess what I’m cooking up!

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I’m coming back with a very special holiday post for you all! Can you guess what it is? Hint: that’s a big batch of chocolate ganache I just cooked up. What could I be making for you with that? I guess you’ll have to come back and see!

WIAW: What I Ate…in Disney World!!

I’m officially back from Disney World and back into real life (wah.) BUT I have lots and lots of yummy Disney treats to share with you now! (YAY!)

I ate a LOT while I was in WDW, so I’m starting off with the best of all: Disney sweets and treats.

I’m not even going to pretend that I ate healthily while on vacation. I did at times (you’ll see that later), but for the most part I enjoyed myself, right down to the very food I ate. This is pretty evident when you realize that I have about a dozen pictures just of sweets and snacks. And I didn’t even photograph nearly everything I ate, just some of the highlights. (Also, there were times, like when I went to afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian’s Garden Tea Room, that I didn’t feel it was appropriate to keep snapping photo after photo–but don’t worry, it does make an appearance below!)

So, without any further ado, I give you WIAW: Disney Sweets and Treats…

1-Dark-chocolate covered caramel with sea salt from Karamell-Küche in Epcot’s Germany pavilion. See the size of that thing? That’s ALL caramel, covered with *just* enough chocolate. Even I, with my mountain of a sweet tooth, could barely finish the thing!
2-Red velvet cupcake from Contempo Cafe in the Contemporary Resort. This cupcake was recommended to me almost as soon as I walked in the door–how could I say no? But I know what you’re thinking: “Gee, that looks an awful lot like buttercream frosting. But Alex, being the huge red velvet fan you are, you must know you need cream cheese frosting!” Totally agree. Good thing it’s filled with it. 😉 Yup. Heavenly. I ate the whole damn thing.
3-The classic, the quintessential Dole Whip float. So famous that this was my first one ever. Pineapple soft-serve with pineapple juice. Super refreshing!
4-Carrot cake cookie sandwich (two large carrot cake rounds filled with cream cheese frosting) and coffee in Hollywood Studios. Breakfast of champions.

1-Coffee ice cream in a sprinkle- and chocolate-dipped homemade waffle cone from Ghiradelli’s in Downtown Disney. Awesome bus-riding snack!
2-School bread from Epcot’s Norway pavilion: a savory-sweet bread filled with sweet custard and topped with icing and coconut. I didn’t love it as much as I’d hoped, unfortunately.
3-Told you afternoon tea would make an appearance. This wasn’t even my dessert, it was Kevin’s, but it was too pretty not to share: pastry filled with vanilla bean mousse…in the shape of a swan! Adorable 🙂
4-And of course, a classic: the Mickey Premium Bar! Your basic vanilla ice cream-dark chocolate shell combo, but the mouse makes it special! He’s posing in front of another classic fave: Space Mountain!

1-Venturing into the treat, away from the sweet momentarily. Chips with chipotle salsa and queso dip from La Cava de Tequila in Epcot’s Mexico pavilion. Salty, cheesy, spicy–YUM!
2-What’s a tequila bar without some margaritas?! Aguacate Margarita (Avocado Margarita.) Oddly, tasted banana-y, which was a little weird. Don’t worry, there was extensive menu to taste from! 😉
3-Back to the sweet (cause it’s me): Maple Crème Brûlée from Le Cellier in Epcot’s Canada pavilion. I had this the last time I was in Disney–2 years ago–and have been thinking about it ever since. Hands down the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had.
4-More frozen treats–frozen banana covered in chocolate and peanuts. I had two of these, they were that good. And SO simple–I’m totally making these at home. Also the breakfast of champions.

So, this is the last week of Jen’s awesome WIAW theme of “Summer Staples.” Does Disney food count as a summer staple? I sure think so!

Well, there ya have it, folks. Installment 1 of what I ate in Walt Disney World. Are you drooling yet? If not, no worries–there’s more where that came from!

My very first “What I Ate Wednesday” (Bridal Shower edition!)

Yesterday was a sick day for me, and I worked from home. So I expected to hit you with a double-whammy of recipe posts. But instead, I ended up sleeping most of the time I wasn’t working or feeling like I was dying, so, alas, no recipe posts. I’ll get them to you later this week. In the meantime, I’m jumping on the train of something I first saw on the Lean Green Bean blog: “What I Ate Wednesdays.” It’s just what it sounds like–every Wednesday, you chronicle what you ate for one day, one week, one trip, whatever. And today, I’m joining the WIAW club.

While I first saw this on the Lean Green Bean, it’s actually hosted by Jen over at Peas and Crayons, so a big thank you to her for hosting! (Check out lots of great WIAW posts here, too!) And so, on with my first What I Ate Wednesday. For my first post, I’m not just following any old day of eating–this is a WIAW Bridal Shower edition!

I attended a friend’s bridal shower on Sunday, and there was no lack of yummy homemade food and drinks. So, naturally, I had some of everything! But before I could get to that, I had to start of the day with a good breakfast. I really wanted cereal, but I was almost out of everything, so I ended up with a mixed bowl of Kashi Autumn Wheat, Kashi GoLean Crunch (Honey Almond) and some muesli from the Wegman’s bulk bins. I topped that all off with some chopped strawberries and finished up with a glass of Simply Orange-Mango juice. (Even better than regular orange juice!)Then, the bridal shower! We had lots of little snacks and hors d’oeuvres, like pita chips and hummus, bruschetta, chips and such. There was also a little bar set up with both regular and grown-up (ahem, spiked) lemonade, wine and fun Italian sodas. Then, for lunch, a great spread of finger sandwiches (ham and cheese and cucumber and cream cheese), curry chicken salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad and a big Italian salad with grape tomatoes and mozzarella.Of course, some seconds were had. (And a few cocktails!)

Then there were the desserts! A tray of assorted Italian cookies (my favorite!), along with homemade funfetti-dipped strawberries (yes, you heard that right–funfetti strawberries! They were dipped in white chocolate with the funfetti sprinkles in it), colorful cupcakes with hearts and fruit. Unfortunately, the desserts were snatched up too quickly for me to get a picture! Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate-covered strawberries, so I had to try one of the funfetti variety (even though I’m not a big funfetti fan.) I also had a cupcake–chocolate, how could I not??–and WAY too many cookies. (Lesson learned: don’t sit down right next to the cookie tray. Ever.)

All that eating really did me in, and I ended up having half a cup of coffee for dinner. No joke. I was pretty much full for the rest of the night.

Well, there you have it–my first foray into WIAW! Hopefully I’ll remember to keep this up! And keep your eyes peeled for that double-whammy of recipes coming sometime this week!

Eataly: An Italian Food Mecca

Eataly NYC inside banner sign

First off, I want to apologize for the long wait between posts. I wrote this whole post, and then WordPress lost it, and it took a few days to get it all back together. Moving on…

Earlier this week, my boyfriend Kevin and I went to New York City and to the most glorious home of Italian food: Eataly NY. Eataly is not just a market and not just a restaurant; it is a combination of market, cooking school and 12 different eateries. The collaborative project of Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali and Lidia and Joe Bastianich, Eataly NY at 200 Fifth Ave. at 23rd St.  is the only U.S. location of the culinary collective. Before New York City, Eataly opened seven locations in Italy and six in Japan.

Now, Eataly is not for the light of heart. This is not your average, run-of-the-mill market. It’s massive, and encompasses everything from fresh exotic produces and full butcher counters to beer, wine and caviar. It has aisles upon aisles devoted to olive oils and pestos and balsamic vinegars behind lock and key. Shelves of spices from all over the world line the walls, surrounding bakery counters, fresh and dried pastas, and, of course, all those restaurants.

Shelves of spices from all over the world lined the aisles

Red, pink and black salts. Yes, a shelf just for salts, and there wasn't just one.

Our dinner: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto san Danielle, Mortadella, Prosciutto Cotto, Speck and Salami with Ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, Cacio Marzolino, Taleggic and Gorgonzola. Condiment plate of honey, figs and candied citrus peel.

Yes, those restaurants. The various small eateries are interspersed throughout the space, each with its own niche of Italian cuisine. We stopped at La Piazza, a stand-up eatery right in the middle of the action. Literally, you stand at small, counter-like tables. The menu at La Piazza is antipasto-style, with mostly Italian meats and cheeses as well as selections of Italian wine and beer. As first-timers, we jumped right in with a meat and cheese sampler plate and a mozzarella classico with fresh basil.To complement, I had a lovely, medium-bodied glass Barbera d’ Albi and Kevin had an Italian golden ale.

While we were both familiar with the traditional cured prosciuttos, the prosciutto cotto, or uncured prosciutto, was new to us. While it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t necessarily something I’d return for. It seemed a bit reminiscent of deli ham, nothing special. I think I’ll keep taking my prosciutto cured.

The speck was the pleasant surprise of the night, though. Prosciutto is often compared to Spanish Serrano ham, though I think the speck is even more similar in flavor to the Serrano, but with a buttery, soft, melt-in-your mouth texture. It was like an elevated prosciutto.

For the most part, we both loved everything on the meat plate, except the mortadella. (I’ve never been a fan of mortadella–it reminds me of boiled ham.) Otherwise, an exciting culinary journey.

The cheeses were just as exciting. Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta and Gorgonzola were familiar, but I was new to the Cacio and Taleggic. I’m a big fan of the first three, particularly Gorgonzola, which paired deliciously with the figs and candied citrus peels from the condiment plate. The Taleggic, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, reminded me of a milder Brie. I enjoy Brie, but I generally find the rind too bitter and pungent, and too much can be overpowering. With the Taleggic, I ate it rind and all, and found the milder flavor welcoming. This too, like Brie, paired quite well with the sweet accoutrements. The Cacio Marzolino, a sheep’s milk cheese, had a nutty flavor, slightly reminiscent of a softer Parmesan. However, it was my least favorite of the cheeses and the only one we left unfinished.

The other part of dinner: Mozzarella Classico with basil

We are both longtime fans of mozzarella, so naturally, we enjoyed the classico thoroughly. Sometimes, I’m very easy to please: the freshest, most delicious mozzarella and fresh, snappy basil make me a very happy person. Add a glass of red wine (check) and I’m perfect.

My initial hope was that we would hop around from eatery to eatery, sampling some of the best Italy has to offer, but we filled up too much on meat, cheese, wine and beer. But, of course, we did leave room for dessert. Eataly houses all of its sweets, espressos and cheeses together, and we wasted no time exploring what may have been my favorite part of the store. In addition to freshly ground espresso, marscapone cheese and fruit preserves were several counters of delectable pastries, colorful chocolates and creamy gelato.

Kevin's dessert: Italian hot chocolate and tiramisu

Kevin got his favorite–tiramisu–and a rich Italian hot chocolate. But, this is no Swiss Miss. It is thick, rich and velvety, more like melted chocolate with a touch of milk than chocolate-flavored milk. The ever-so-slight bitterness of the dark chocolate prevented the hot chocolate from becoming overwhelmingly sweet.

My Lemon Baba (Limoncello-soaked cake filled with pastry cream, topped with a candied orange peel and raspberry)

As much of a chocolate-lover as I am, I was seeking something sweet and fruity to complement the meat and cheese I ate. I had a Lemon Baba, an Italian cake soaked in Limoncello, filled with pastry cream and topped off with a candied citrus peel and raspberry. (More of that citrus peel! I really did love them.) It was sweet and tangy, light and fruity, and the perfect way to finish off the meal. The tangy acidity cut through the richness of the meat and cheese. And of course, what better way to finish off the day then with a perfect, authentic Italian cappuccino? It brought me back to my days in Spain sipping cafe con leches on my way to class. (For those that don’t know, I studied in Valencia, Spain for six months. And, boy, did they know how to make a good cafe con leche. Even McDonald’s there had good coffee. But I digress.) Fewer things in the world make me happier than a great cup of coffee (even fresh mozzarella and good red wine.)

With our stomachs filled and our taste buds satisfied, we returned to our browsing. It’s pretty much impossible to walk out of a place like this empty-handed, but since we did have a whole train ride back to New Jersey to deal with, we limited ourselves to one loaf of bread each. We each went for a soft and crusty rustic bread, Kevin an Italian rye and me a raisin. I still have about half the loaf left. The tangy sourdough flavor and the sweet raisins have made for some delicious breakfasts.

One of the walls of the wine shop

In addition to the main space, there is also an entire separate wine shop next door. I went to seek out a bottle of the Barbera d’Albi I drank with dinner, but sadly, they were out. Otherwise I would have had one more purchase to add to my list.

All in all, Eataly was a fantastic experience. But, I barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer, so I’ll just have to return. It’s produce-driven eatery, Le Verdure, tops my list of must-trys, as does its aplty-named La Pasta and La Pizza. Perhaps one of the most intriguing draws of Eataly is its rooftop restaurant, Birreria.

But one of the best things about Eataly is probably its mission: Eat Better, Cook Simpler. They work on the practice of cooking what they sell and selling what they cook, with a real focus in high-quality, natural ingredients. However, they don’t do it without a bit of cheekiness. Their “policy” states that 1. The customer is not always right. 2. Eataly is not always right. 3. Through our differences, we create harmony.Eat Better Cook Simpler banner

If you’re ever in New York City (or not, but want to–and should–be) and love all things Italian, head over to Fifth Ave. and immerse yourself in the culinary haven that is Eataly. I promise, you won’t be disappointed as it quite literally has something for everyone.

Oh, and if you do find yourself there, please, let me know what you thought of it, what you did, what you ate, etc.! I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences there.

A few more shots from the Eataly market:

Fresh octopus

Some of the priciest selections, champagne and caviar, behind a locked display case

A selection of focaccias at the bread counter

Butcher counter

Colorful chocolates in the dessert section

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