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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vodka Vednesday

It's hump-day, and I, like many, need a beverage of the adult variety. How about you?

As I'm clearly into lists these days, I've decided to illustrate the gloriousness of alcohol during the holidays.

1. Hostess/Host presents
2. Holiday gifts to people you may not know too well (just be sure they don't take issue with it)
3. Fancy schmancy holiday drinks so everyone thinks your the host/hostess with the most/mostess
4. Hot cocoa by the fire? Why not this instead?

If you're like me, and perpetually cold once the thermostat gets below 80, you're always in search of new ways to warm up. Of course, there's no better way to warm up than with food or drink. There's coffee, tea, soup, stew, and my new obsession, flavor infused vodka.

It makes your  presents prettier, your party drinks fancy schmancier, and once you start going, the possible varieties are endless. You can infuse with berries, citrus, cucumber (so refreshing), and spices such as lemongrass, ginger, or even peppermint.

My new favorite, however, is jalapeno. To make it holiday appropriate, I've decided to entitle it "Jolly Jalapeno". Just go with it.

1 750 ml bottle of your favorite flavorless vodka
6 jalapeno peppers, deseeded (the idea is to taste it, not burn your tastebuds off)

Chop up the peppers, add them to the bottle and let it sit for around 3 days. You may either leave the peppers in, or strain and enjoy.

a jalapeno who is clearly jolly

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To Smoothie Or Not To Smoothie

I don't know if you're aware, but in the world of nutrition, smoothies are a seriously controversial subject matter. Some sing their praises as the detoxer of all detoxers, your own catered cocktail, packed with whatever it is your body is 'lacking', the perfect meal replacement. Others cast it as an evil diet buster, calorie-packed but leaving your tummy empty as ever, leading the 'do not consume' list.

I, on the otherhand dare to suggest something different: *gasp* moderation.

Smoothies can be wonderful in many ways, and please allow me to count a few of them for you.

1. a quick and refreshing snack
2. a breakfast option for early morning eating haters
3. a fabulous way to dispose of excess fruit and veggies
4. a seriously more delicious method by which to consume necessary vitamins and nutrients
5. an excuse to drink with a Crazy Straw

On that note, let's get started with THIS, Self Magazine's "Smoother Bikini Body" Smoothie, a fruity, chocolaty, potassium-packed, bloat-buster.

Recipe Ease: It's a smoothie. It truly doesn't get much easier. Although, I will note that not everyone has acai berry frozen smoothie packs or raw cacao powder lying around the house. If you find your pantry smoothie pack and cacao-less, might I suggest substituting 2-3 tbspns acai juice and un-raw cacao powder (think Hershey, but don't you dare use the sweetened kind).

Yumminess: THIS truly does taste like chocolate covered cherries and banana, however there's no getting away from that slight after taste all protein powders leave for you. As for texture because apparently there are the watery smoothie followers and the creamy smoothie followers, THIS is most certainly of the watery variety.

Health Benefits: THIS smoothie gets down to business. With the anti-inflammatory powers of cherries, the bloat-busting, potassium-packed powers of bananas, and the glucose monitoring impact of cacao, it really does the trick. We're also dealing with a mere 276 calories, a whopping 10g of fiber and 13g of protein. In my book, this makes for a great snack and a filling, albeit light breakfast.

As far as acai goes, unless you've been living under a rock for the past year or so, it's the latest and greatest superfood. Claims range from its assistance with weight loss, cancer-fighting properties, and anti-aging properties. Here's what everyone concedes to: the teensy tiny acai berry is jam-packed with antioxidants and one in particular, anthocyanin. This antioxidant is found in most berries and is known for it's fighting prowess against free radicals and life's stressors. I, personally, am all for fighting life's stressors in both a figurative and literal sense.
acai looks suspiciously like it's cousin, the blueberry
$$$: Smoothies are not only waistline friendly but also pocketbook friendly and THIS is no exception.
Best in Show-worthy : THIS is surely a tasty smoothie that will keep you full while easing the bloat and guilt of any holiday feast. If you're after taste sensitive, however, might I suggest THAT?

THAT is Women's Health Magazines Rise and Shine Smoothie.

THAT has neither pistachio nor cinnamon, but it IS pistachio colored
Recipe Ease: Again, as far as making things from scratch, it doesn't get easier than a smoothie. Don't have canned sweet potato? ANOTHER option is to use canned pumpkin (not, I repeat, not pumpkin pie filling but plain-jane canned pumpkin).

Yumminess: My mother and I like to play a form of an impromptu word association game I call "Who Can Pick the Very Best Adjective to Describe What We're Currently Eating?". We tied with THAT smoothie because in the exact same moment, "refreshing" was deemed the perfect descriptor. Please note, conceding to a tie is not easy for me as I primarily prefer winning, but I digress. Seriously, I think it's the avocado that provides that certain something. I could guzzle it. Texture-wise, it's like a milkshake, so maybe I couldn't technically guzzle it but this is where the aforementioned Crazy Straws come in handy.

Health Benefits: Avocado is magical. I can think of only a limited naturally occuring foods that taste sinful while they actually happen to be on nearly ever superfood list out there. I think I'm alone in my belief that strawberries and artichokes qualify.

Avocado is not only rich in that debloater of all debloaters, potassium, but it also happens to contain minerals that encourage your body to absorb more beta-carotene and lutein (think- skin, hair, nail, beautifiers) which just so happen to be found in our second ingredient, sweet potatoes. Isn't that a happy coincidence?

Comparing THAT to THIS, we're now looking at slightly more calories, 291, about half the fiber, 7g, and slightly less protein (although still a full serving for breakfast), 9g.

 $$$: If you're like me, THAT will require less purchases as I happened to already have everything at home. Clearly that doesn't make it free in the grand scheme of things, but as far as my daily expenses go, it does.

Best in Show-worthy: Tada! THAT is just such a winner, and that pretty mermaid green color just so happens to be very 'in' right now too.

Do you have any go-to smoothie recipes? Instant debloaters? Fabulous uses for avocado?

Don't forget to take the new quiz, just up there to your right.

And, most importantly, have a loverly week.


Monday, November 28, 2011


Now that I'm nearly fully awakened from my food-induced coma, I think it's the perfect time for a recap.

The whole clan decided that Claire's pie was the hands down winner, having nothing to do with the filling and everything to do with the crust which was deamed "heavenly".

How are you handling your leftovers? We make panini's of every shape and size.

Another go-to of mine is to heat up some soup which I always keep frozen in portion-sized containers and pour in a melange of the leftover vegetables.

Not only is this a fabulous use of leftovers, but it's also a waist-line friendly option. I, for one, am still hesitant to put anything on without ample amounts of elastic, and my scale has gone into winter hibernation for at least a week or two. I read recently that the average person does not gain more than half a pound at Thanksgiving, but I'd rather not be the one to prove this theory wrong.

Given my faith in everyone's over-indulgence this past week, I've settled upon antioxidant packed recipes this week in the purest form of a detox, the SMOOTHIE (yum).

I'm not particularly one to replace a whole meal with pure liquid as I'm quite the fan of chewing, but replacing a usually salty snack with a debloating drink is quite doable for most, I'm sure.

Tonight, we'll pitch Self Magazine against Health Magazine and see what power-packed liquid snacks they have to offer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two-fers Tuesday, Part Two: Battle of the Southern Belles

When I was little, I spent insane amounts of energy trying to keep myself from reading the last chapter in books. I absolutely ruined a couple of The Boxcar Children books when my willpower caved. That said, sometimes knowing the ending made the rest of the book even more enticing. This is one of my favorite parts about baking. When reading a recipe, knowing how it turns out makes the "how-to" all the more intriguing.

The end of this story is really simple. We have two show-stopping, delightfully simple pumpkin pies that are traditional enough to incite palate-nostalgia and unique enough that you won't have to go up against your mamma's.

THIS is Paula's recipe, Apple Butter Pecan Pie. As you'll notice, she doesn't provide a crust recipe. This irks me just a tad. Not to say that I'm a hater of pre-made ingredients across the board or even pre-made crusts for every occasion, but in my (incredibly humble) opinion, it's Thanksgiving, if you can't bring out your rolling pin once a year, I might cry a bit. Now, I completely understand the stigma against crusts. For something that is technically a vehicle for the flavor-packed filling, why would you want to spend inordinate amounts of time on it? And for that matter, chefs, bakers, and even Food Channel stars spend unnecessary amounts of time focusing on the horrors of adding too much water, too little water, 'working' the pastry too much, 'working' the pastry too little...exhausting.

Well I am here to provide you with a full-proof, I repeat, full-proof, all-purpose crust recipe.

(makes 2 9-inch crusts)

I swear I made it 
Tip #1 (aka the key to all pie crusts) - all ingredients must be as cold as the refrigerator can make them but not frozen.

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tspn salt
1 tbspn sugar
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup ice water

Tip #2 - use a food processor.

Put flour, salt, sugar in food processor and pulse a couple times. Pulse in the butter and vegetable shortening until the butter and shortening are the size of marbles.

Gradually pulse in the ice water until the dough begins to form a ball all by itself! (Herein lies the glory of the food processor).

Tip #3 - some boring Sunday early in November, make a double batch and freeze it. You too can get a pie in the oven in 20 minutes flat.


 Recipe Ease: from collecting ingredients to putting the pie in the oven, this took all of 15-30 minutes. It doesn't get easier. Leave it to Ms. Dean to allow any lady to feel like a culinary goddess.

Yumminess: the apple butter intensifies the flavor beyond all belief. This is way more than a pumpkin pie. This is Autumn in a pretty pastry package.

Health Benefits: It's Paula, just don't think about it. Need to rationalize? Pumpkins are incredible antioxidants. That's all I've got...go eat the pie and hop on the treadmill tomorrow.
 $$$: THIS is more expensive than THAT, primarily because of the apple butter. I promise it's worth it!

Best in Show-worthy: For all you traditionalists out there, this is what you're looking for. Sure, it's pumpkin pie on flavor steroids, but it looks like the pumpkin pie you know and love from your a chicer, yummier, spice-filled way.

that rich molasses color comes from the fact that we literally packed every ounce of possible flavor in there

THAT is Claire Robinson's Ginger Pumpkin Tart recipe. If you're not a borderline obsessive Food Network-phile, Claire is the newest spunky host to grace the screen. To be honest, she annoyed me a bit at first. As I consider myself a southern girl, I tend to judge new TV personalities on the validity of their 'southerness' and boy howdy did I give her a hard time. Somewhere in the middle of a Claire marathon that I may or may not have been aimlessly glued to, she grew on me. And, I think she'll grow on you once you try THAT recipe. 

Recipe Ease: did you see the name of her show? Did you count the ingredients? That's right, there are 5, including the pinch of salt. There isn't easier. 

Yumminess: the flavors in THAT are nothing but traditional. It's nearly all pumpkin. The texture, on the other hand, is almost mousse-y as opposed to the standard custard. It's lighter, airier and less dense than your standard pie. Also, that gingersnap crust adds the exact flavor snap for which you're looking. 
Health Benefits: definitely the winner. 
 $$$: see THIS 

Best in Show-worthy: look at that beauty. It's a pale orange with a caramel colored crust, and removed from the tart tin, it looks nothing like your momma's. 
      eat me                                     

There are countless (an)OTHER recipes.

Remember my recipe for the chocolate-y dumplings to make with crust scrappings? This is it. Why does it have a chunk taken out of it already? Jon and I couldn't manage to wait to take a picture before devouring at least half of it.

Jon came up with the brilliant idea to use the apple butter instead of melted butter. Just do it.

To keep on theme with my 'waste not, want not', what are some options if you have extra filling?

secret family toffee recipe...maybe one day I'll share
Above, ANOTHER option is to put the leftover filling into ramekins, filling them up 3/4 of the way. Bake at the same temperature as the pie calls for around 15-20 minutes. The top will start to crack. Let it cool to your desired temperature, put a dollop of whipped cream and some toffee candy.

ANOTHER route to take with the ramekins is to dollop with ice cream and sprinkle with crumbled gingersnap. I added a whole one in there under the pretense of 'showing what was in it'...truthfully, I just love any excuse to eat gingersnaps.

Do you have any alternatives to the traditional pumpkin pie? Any uses for leftover yolks, egg whites, filling, or crust? Please do share!

Happiest and healthiest Thanksgiving wishes to you and all of yours.

Two-fers Tuesday, Part One: Waste Not, Want Not

At the risk of sounding entirely too pretentious, thinking that I've already *maybe* collected a teensy bit of a following, my sincerest apologies for my lack of posting and promise-keeping for yesterday's pie match. In order to win your forgiveness, I'm making it a Tuesday filled with Two-fers. What does this mean, you may ask? Well, you'll get TWO posts, TWO pumpkin pie recipes, and TWO uses for crust.

I get disproportionate pleasure out of multitasking successfully and creatively. In fact, I already know that while my siblings and I tease my mother for her incessant use of "are you going to take the high road?", my children will pick at my daily usage of "I killed two birds with one stone!"...seriously, is there any greater thrill?

Bringing this to cooking, one of my greatest pet peeves, is wasting. For instance, the peppermint angel food cake I made Friday required 12 egg whites, and I swear a part of me died when I didn't have the energy to utilize the now disposed of 12 egg yolks. I had an energy-sapping, freak accident. A freak KITCHEN accident in which the latest Real Housewives of Beverly Hills distracted me from my egg white whipping, at which point my very, terribly long hair somehow made contact with the beaters, and before I knew it, there was an egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, beating horror of a mess attached to the side of my head. (silver lining)

Back to the crust and pardon the digression, but I had to share. Anyone who has ever made a pie crust from scratch will surely understand that there are always scrappings. And, scrappings allow for both successful and creative multitasking - joy!

What can you do with yours?

I grew up taking the leftover crust, cookie-cutting it into fun shapes, covering it in cinnamon sugar, and baking it at 350 degrees for approximately 10 minutes.

Are you looking for a chocolatey option? Take scraps of approximately 2 inch diameter in whatever shape you like. Brush the scrap with melted butter and place a couple of chocolate chips in the middle. Then fold the scrap over (like a dumpling), covering the buttery, chocolate goodness and press all edges so the melted filling won't leak out. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 8 minutes.

What's up next? A Food Network fight to the finish! Ms. Paula Dean's Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie  versus Claire Robinson's Ginger Pumpkin Tart.

In the meantime, what do you do with your leftover scraps?

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's the Great Pumpkin!

Well, we have a winner - pumpkin pie! If you've come across any recipes you've been dying to test, do tell. In the meantime, a quick and *gasp* healthy pumpkin-filled dessert to tide you over.

Take 1 15 oz can of pumpkin puree (not pie filling if you're shooting for skinny), 1 1/2 cups low fat ricotta cheese, 1 tspn cinnamon, 1/2 tspn nutmeg, and maple syrup or honey to taste. Mix it together and enjoy. This makes around 6 servings of pumpkin-autumn-creamy-glory.

Stay tuned to see which pie still stands come Monday and have a glorious weekend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eggstraordinary Fact of The Day

Did you know that the tall chef's hat we know and love today traditionally had a hundred pleats to represent the number of ways an egg could be cooked?

What's your favorite way to cook an egg? I think it's pretty hard to beat a good scramble...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ice Cubes, Reinvented...

A huge deterrent when I'm considering making homeade sauces (i.e. pesto, tomato) is that I know little ol' me could never finish them before they spoil. Freezing the sauce in individual ice cube molds allows for longer shelf life, portion control, and total avoidance of microwave ovens that look like crime scenes. With the smaller size, you can melt the sauce directly on top of the pasta, veggies, or whatever else you choose.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tip o' the Day

When recipes call for coursely chopped chocolate bars (typically for melting), use chocolate chips or mini chocolate chips instead. If you're going for familiarity and budget, Nestle is always a good choice, but if you're looking for higher quality, Ghiradelli is your best bet. This will cut your overall prep time in half.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Flour(less) is More - Flourless Chocolate Cake

I purposefully and rather insightfully left this for a Monday(just another manic one). The intent was two-fold: firstly, you can't truly experience the Monday Blues following a rough day when your evening is chalk full of activities. I elected for a vigorous workout with one of my very favorite cousin's, dinner with 4 of my very favorite girls, and a blog post with my very favorite dessert. This gets me right to my second reason: chocolate. Chocolate cures all, even a Monday. 

My first recipe was brought on by the specialist of special occasions, my daddy's birthday, for which I was tasked with baking the cake. The tricky part, however, is that he hates cake in it's truest form, and if a dessert does not contain at least 10x the recommended daily dosage of chocolate, don't you dare call it a dessert. With this in mind, I happened upon THIS, Bon Appetit's La Bete Noir. Let the games begin...

The Fixins:
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, diced
  • 18 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 6 large eggs

  • Ganache
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped

To Do:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 10-inch-diameter spring-form pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment round; butter parchment. Wrap 3 layers of heavy-duty foil around the pan. 

Combine 1 cup water and sugar in small saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat. 

Melt butter in large saucepan over low heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk sugar syrup into chocolate. Add eggs to chocolate and whisk until well blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Add hot water halfway up sides of cake pan. 

Bake 50 minutes and cool on wire rack. 

For the ganache, bring whipping cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat and then remove from heat. Add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour over cake still in pan and refrigerate 2 hours. EAT. 

Recipe Ease: overall, very easy to follow. 
Yumminess: easily the best chocolate fudge cake around. it's fudgy, dense, decadent, and devilishly indulgent
Health Benefits: really? who didn't leap for joy when we found out chocolate has 'health benefits' but don't push it. 
$$$: assuming you have water, sugar, eggs and butter beforehand, approximately $12.
Best in Show-worthy: duh...winning. this cake came out to be absolutely stunning. the only thing better was the taste

My second recipe was inspired by a second, duly special occasion, my oldest cousin's engagement and a celebratory dinner at our grandmother's for which I was commissioned to bake a dessert (noticing a pattern?). Given that chocolate adoration is genetic, it was another no-brainer. THAT is where Southern Living's Chocolate Fudge Cake came into play...

The Fixins:

  • unsweetened cocoa
  • 2, 8-oz. packages semisweet chocolate squares, chopped
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sugar

To Do:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch spring-form pan and dust with unsweetened cocoa. 

Melt chopped chocolate and butter in saucepan on low heat until smooth. Remove from heat. 

Whisk egg yolks and vanilla in large bowl. Stir 1/4 cup of egg mixture into warm chocolate. Then gradually stir in the remainder. 

Beat egg whites at high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of beaten egg whites into chocolate. Gently fold in the rest and spread evenly in prepared pan. 

Bake for 25 minutes and cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes before enjoying. 

Recipe Ease: not so much. egg-whites can be scary. 
Yumminess: delicious. more mild than THIS, but that's okay for some people I'm sure. cake-like texture.
Health Benefits: see THIS
$$$: clear winner here, coming in at 1/2 the price of THIS
Best in Show-worthy: and here's where it gets sad. while delicious, this cake was really not too presentable (see below) unless you're a huge fan of cracked top cakes or excessive powdered sugar usage. 

add your favorite citrus zest (1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 grapefruit) to the glaze in THIS
add 1 tablespoon espresso powder to THIS or THAT
drown THAT in powdered sugar 
add 1 tablespoon Kahlua or coffee liquor to THIS or THAT
cover a completely cooled THIS or THAT with your favorite berry

Now here we are with my first dual coming to a close, but like any chocolate fiend, I've saved the best for last: My perfected flourless chocolate cake of the millenium, albeit only a slight tweak to THIS, by the delectable additions of 1 tspn salt to the cake batter and the zest of one whole orange to the ganache. 
orange you to die for...


Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Taste of What's to Come

Hello worldwide web and welcome to my lovely new to-do.

Quick introduction - after my move back to the wonderful state of Texas this fall from two years in NYC, I found myself faced with a horrific thing I'd nearly forgotten existed...moments of boredom, thumb-twiddling, too much time to think, etc. So, I started spending time focusing on all my favorite things: spending time with the fam, catching up on my reading list, rediscovering tennis, oh, working, of course, and my all-time favorite, cure-all for the worst of moods, solver of all life problems, cooking.

And one fine day that included a bit of all the previously mentioned things, I had a glorious epiphany formulated out of mass levels of frustration. Put simply, I'd spent 3 hours on the web, scouring it for a cupcake recipe. Not just any cupcake recipe, the absolute best, most impressive cupcake recipe known to man. While the plethora of recipes found on the internet are certainly scattered with the best of the best, who has time, patience, or the desire to compare? Well, I thought, I do!

Here we are, nearing my very first blog post to the world, a post in which we'll discover the most tantalizing  recipe for flourless chocolate cake known to man, or at least me. Each week, I'll do the work for you, pitting two well-known sources for their culinary expertise against each other (the THIS and the THAT). Being the opinionated lady that I am however, I'll also share a third option (ANOTHER) that's of my own making.

Because I acknowledge different people have different priorities, I'll judge each recipe on multiple criteria: how easy the recipe is to follow, how tasty it is (clearly), how healthy it is, how pricey it is, and how presentable it is.

So stay tuned. Starting tomorrow, I'll report back with the results of my first duel: Southern Living vs. Bon Appetit - Flourless Chocolate Cake showdown.

**requests, comments, loves, hates, and grammar edits always welcome**