Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Mini Cherry-Chocolate Galettes

It's hard to believe that the summer is hurtling to a close.  A few weeks ago I was walking to work and thinking that soon enough, I'd have on a light jacket with a briskness in the air.  I was almost looking forward to it.  I have had Calvados sitting in the pantry since March and I've been waiting for apple season to use it! Then, I think about how little we have enjoyed summer and just wish it could hang around a few months more.

I guess we'll just have to plan that Caribbean vacation sooner than we thought!  It's getting to the time though when I start to realize summer is ending and thus buy as many summer fruits and vegetables as we can (uncomfortably) fit in our fridge. Cherries are one of those.  I think in the last 3 weeks, we've bought about 8 pounds of cherries.  Ah, I wish I was kidding!  I get obsessed!

These galettes were the perfect way to use some of them up and still keep me on my weight-loss goals for M's wedding.  They are mini but pack such a deliciousness that John and I split them every day for a week!  And, when they were gone, well, I thought about buying some more cherries to make them again!  We'll have to wait until next summer, I guess!
Mini Cherry-Chocolate Galettes (adapted from Red Star to Lone Star)
Serves:  8 (4 mini galettes)
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick butter, very cold
6 tablespoons heavy cream

1 cup cherries, pitted and halved
3 tablespoons cherry brandy
1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Galette:  In a food processor, add flour, salt, and baking powder.  Pulse to mix.  Cut the butter into 1/2 inch cubes.  Add the butter and process about 20-30 seconds, until crumbly.  Add the cream and pulse 6-8 times until the dough holds its shape when pressed together.  Remove the dough from the food processor and knead 6-10 times until it holds a shape.  Divide into 4 pieces and shape each one into a disk.  Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour, up to 24 hours.

Filling:  Mix pitted cherries and cherry brandy until well-coated.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease 2 cookie sheets well with cooking spray.  Roll each disc into circles about 8 inches in diameter.  Divide the cherry mixture evenly between them, mounding them in the middle, leaving 1 inch on all sides.  Evenly divide the chocolate chips among them.  Pinch the sides up, leaving a large opening in the center.  If desired, coat the edges with cooking spray and raw sugar.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.   Let cool slightly and serve either warm or at room temperature.  For best results, serve them same-day or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  To serve later, bake at 400 degrees F for 5-8 minutes and then serve immediately. 
Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Field Trip: Anchorage and Denali, Alaska

It's hard to believe but we left for our trip to Alaska more than one month ago now!  Sometimes it feels like yesterday and other times it feels like a lifetime ago, but I think that's normal for vacations. While you're there, time is very elastic - a total separation from your life that revolves around work, laundry, food blogs, you know.  But then you get back and you are thrust, quite literally, back into your old life!  Regardless, it was worth it!  I hope you enjoy the recap this week!

We flew into Anchorage on a Wednesday evening; John and I got in about two hours before the rest of the family.  We caught a cab to the hotel and hung around Anchorage waiting for them to get in.  I had made late reservations for dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse so by the time everyone got in and walked to the restaurant,we were all much too tired to eat much.  Almost everyone had soups and small nibbles. For me, that was crab cakes and the BEST seafood chowder I've ever had in my life.  Not a joke people. 

The next morning we woke up in our hotel, the Historic Anchorage Hotel which was charming and right in the middle of "downtown" Anchorage.  We headed out to Denali National Park with a planned pitstop on the way at The Flying Squirrel Cafe.  It's so famous now it is even in guide books but this small little cafe is really just on the side of the road into Telkeetna.  It's about a 30 minute detour from your Anchorage to Denali drive but it's worth the trip!  John had the special which was a roast beef with pickled rhubarb and horseradish mayo.  I had a fancy grilled cheese with tomatoes and gouda.  We got tons of desserts and muffins to go and a stuffed bread that was too delicious for words.  Stuffed with mozzarella, peppers, onions - it was delicious and enjoyed by everyone.

Denali was filled with hiking, beautiful scenery, tons of animals, and delicious food.  That first night we ate in our hotel, The Grande Denali Lodge.  Our waitress that first night was hilarious, telling us all about how they were out of bread and waiting for the next "shipment", by telling us we couldn't do much about it because that's just "crazy Alaska", unknowningly coining the phrase for the rest of the trip.  Dinner at the hotel was good; we got simple sandwiches and relaxed.

Our first full day, we drove into the park to Savage River (the farthest you can personally drive - mile 16).  We did a nice little hike there and then went to dinner at the 49th State Brewery.  I was jazzed about this because Friday night they do an all-you-can-eat pig roast!  They roast whole pigs in their blonde ale and then pull it and serve bowls of it for $22 with a few sides.  When we got there, though, I was swayed by the "yak burger" which was locally raised.  Of course, they were out of that (crazy Alaska) so I went with my original pig roast option.  The meat was tender and delicious.  John couldn't help digging into mine as well after he finished his carne asada tacos!!

Crazy Alaska continued for the rest of the trip.  The next day, we took the bus to the Eielson Visitor Center and did a very steep hike that I picked to see the best views of Mount McKinley!  Our bus was at 9 am and by the time we got back it was after 8 pm!  We went to Prospector's Pizza (out of 2 different kinds of pizzas) and ordered about 8 pizzas for the 8 of us!  Every single kind you could possibly think of arrived at our table!  It was a blast and by the end of the evening, it was all we could do not to pass out on the quick ride back to the hotel!

After our time in Denali, we headed back to Anchorage for one last evening before the second half of our trip.  We got to enjoy the Alaskan Market which was only a short walk from the hotel and had lots of neat jams, honeys, nectars, ice creams, basically everything you could think of that was local to Alaska.  It was a fun way to wile away an hour or two at the end of an afternoon.

The next morning we were out the door by 5 am in order to catch a flight to Juneau where our crazy Alaska adventure continued...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Weeknight Dinner: Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup

The minute it hits May, John is UNBEARABLY hot, until it hits the first of October.  Maybe even later, depending on the weather.  I, on the other hand, am practically always freezing - even in summer.  I sit in a freezing cold office all day, go outside for MAYBE fifteen minutes, and then on an air-conditioned train and into my air conditioned home.  It's practically a joke.

There is one thing I agree with him on - when it gets to be the type of temperatures we've had lately, you just don't want to eat hot food.  It's completely unappetizing.  When I saw this soup, though, I knew it was perfect for us.  It combines two favorite foods, is packed with vegetables and few calories (bonus), and it would be something we could easily make on a weekend night when we're both feeling pretty tired. 

Seeing that we're coming up to the final weeks of summer, I had to get it to you sooner than later so you could try it for yourselves.  Since it isn't a hot soup, a normal blender works wonders with no other fancy equipment required.  And, you can use all that super fresh produce that's just hanging out in your farmer's markets or backyards this summer!
Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup (adapted from Nerds with Knives)
Serves:  4
2 large cucumbers, peeled
1 avocado, peeled
4 scallions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons basil, chopped
1 tablespoon mint, chopped
3 cups vegetable broth
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 heirloom tomato, roughly chopped

Cut the peeled cucumbers in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Roughly chop the cucumber and throw it into the blender.  Roughly chop the avocado and add it to the blender along with the scallions, cilantro, basil, and mint.  Process until smooth.  Then, add the vegetable broth, lime zest, lime juice, apple cider vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Process until smooth, taking time to push down any liquid that is on the sides of the blender.  Pour into 4 bowls and top evenly with heirloom tomato. 

Serve immediately.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Black Forest Cupcakes

Lately I've been feeling like I just can't get it together.  I'm sitting here, Sunday evening, trying to blog for the week, clean the house, do the laundry, make dinner, and oh, yeah, head to work for a 9 PM meeting.  Joking, I'm not.  Amidst the hustle and bustle of work lately, all my daily "life" stuff is getting shoved to the side.  I wish you could see our sofa (actually, I don't).

There is a pile of my very clean work clothes on there that I just need to hang up.  But, it's easier at this moment to just pull stuff out when I need it and head out to work.  It will get done one day but hen is the question.  This is not to mention the huge suitcase still sitting in the living room (that needs to get to my moms...one of these days) and a good dozen pieces of clothing strewn around trying to dry from this evening's laundry adventure.

In the midst of all this, blogging becomes more of a chore than an enjoyment and it's something I've struggled with for the past few weeks.  But then, John and I make something incredible, like these cupcakes, and I WANT to share them with you all.  So I am.  Sorry for my lack of witty repartee; I promise it will come back soon.  The cupcakes were inspired by our Oktoberfest vacation last year.  Vacation is the only thing on my mind lately, and it was nice to remember what a great time we had!! 
Black Forest Cupcakes
Serves:  12
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
2 ounces chocolate chips (I used dark chocolate)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces plain greek yogurt

1 cup cherries, pitted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
6 tablespoons cherry brandy

1 cup whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cherry brandy 

Cupcakes:  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease your muffin tin with cooking spray and set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine butter, chocolate chips, and cocoa powder.  Microwave at 30 second intervals on half-power, stirring well between each microwaving, until the chocolate chips and butter is melted and the mixture is well combined.  Let cool until it is only just warm to the touch.

In a second bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, and vanilla until fully incorporated.  Add the cooled chocolate mixture and stir well.  Then, sift flour, baking soda, and baking powder the bowl.  Whisk briefly, add the greek yogurt, and whisk again until the batter is very thick but evenly mixed.  Pour into the muffin tin and bake for 12-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove the cupcakes and let cool.

Filling:  In a small saucepan, combine cherries, sugar, and water.  Let the mixture come to a high simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, until most of the water has dissolved and the mixture is thickened (it should lightly coat the back of a metal spoon).  Remove from heat and stir in the cherry brandy.  Set aside.

Frosting:  Beat whipping cream and sugar until soft peaks form.  Add cherry brandy and beat until peaks stand when the beaters are removed.

Assembly:  Using a sharp paring knife, remove a cone from the center of the cupcake.  Fill with the cherry filling, and top with frosting.  Garnish with an additional cherry, if desired, and serve immediately.

The cherry filling will soak into the cupcake (slowly) so keep the components separate until ready to serve!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Weeknight Dinner: Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Wraps

The grill just calls to you when it's too hot to turn on the oven, doesn't it?  But sometimes I find myself a little sick of grilled food.  Most of the time, you're just grilling a big hunk of meat and while that's great, that certainly isn't helping me fit into a bridesmaids dress for my sisters wedding.

John has been good about giving up those big slabs of meat for more manageable dinners that can still be enjoyable, although how much he enjoys them is up for debate!  These, though, were a favorite in the house.  The meatballs are completely flavorful and for an easier dinner, you don't even have to make them into meatballs.  Just saute it all up for a quick dinner and then wrap that in lettuce leaves. 

Vietnamese Meatball Lettuce Wraps (adapted from Food and Wine)
Serves:  4 (12 wraps)
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 red onion, half finely chopped and half thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
12 Boston lettuce leaves
1/4 cup cucumber, julienned
sriracha, for serving

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat*.  In a large bowl, combine chicken, soy sauce, chopped red onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper.  Form into 12 meatballs.   Cook on the greased grill 4-6 minutes per side.  Place a meatball in each lettuce leaf and top with remaining red onion, cucumber, and sriracha. 

*You can also make these in the oven:  preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook 12-14 minutes on a greased cookie sheet or until cooked through. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Date Night Dinner: Chicken Mofongo

When John and I were in Puerto Rico for his birthday last year, we both fell in love with Mofongo - probably because it has every unhealthy ingredient you could think of mashed with plantains and stuffed with meat.  I mean seriously people - what could be wrong with that?  We've been talking about making it for some time now but never got the chance.

But as soon as I walked into the neighborhood grocery store and saw green plantains, I knew what dinner would be this weekend!  I was so excited.  Of course, this recipe is a little indepth.  It requires time, patience, and reading the directions.  Usually, I have none of these things but at least on Saturdays I do have time. 

We didn't have those great little mofongo cups you see all over Puerto Rico (in the restaurants AND souvenir shops) but serving it in any large dish and building a cup for your meat is the way to go here.  The spicy tomato sauce sinks into the luscious plantain, well, it is just a treat!  And if you've never had it, I couldn't think of why you'd pass up the opportunity to give it a try.
Chicken Mofongo (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves:  2
3 plantains
1 teaspoon salt
2 strips bacon
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
6 ounces chicken stock, divided
1/2 pound chicken breasts, diced
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 red pepper, diced
6 ounces tomato paste

Slice the plantains into 1-inch cuts and place in a large bowl.  Add salt and enough water to cover the plantains fully.  Let sit 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot to boil.  Drain the plantains and boil for 15 minutes, until slightly tender though not mushy. Meanwhile, cook the bacon strips over medium heat in a thick-bottomed skillet until crispy.  Remove and crumble into a large bowl.  Mix with garlic. 

Drain the plantains and pat dry.  Saute the plantain slices in the bacon grease until golden brown on each side 3-5 minutes.  If you need more oil, supplement with a few tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Add the plantains and half of the chicken stock to the bacon-garlic mixture and using a potato masher, mash until the plantain mixture resembles mashed potatoes. 

Meanwhile, using the same skillet, brown the chicken.  Add the onion and peppers and saute 3-5 minutes.  Add the remaining chicken stock and tomato paste.  Simmer until the sauce is thick, 7-10 minutes.

Place the plantains in a large bowl and make a large dent in the middle.  Spoon in the chicken and serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Copycat Vanilla Frostys

There's something about the summer that makes you feel, more alive.  I'm not sure that's the right wording but maybe you know what I mean by that.  I'm not working less hours but we're staying up later and waking up earlier, and somehow feeling ready to go every minute of the day.  Needless to say, there is a lot getting done in our house and at my office, too!

The one thing we've been avoiding lately is the car.  It's just too nice to spend a long time driving anywhere.  But without a car, we're back in our neighborhood grocery stores that are, let's just face it, totally overpriced because most people don't have a car and they have a captured audience.  As you could imagine, it makes some purchases very tough.  Like ice cream. I know, the building block of my existence, hasn't been in the freezer since before we left for Alaska. 

We've been craving soft serve ice cream as of late so no one was more excited than I was when I found a recipe for a copycat Wendy's Frosty!!!  They had chocolate frostys but I wondered if we could make vanilla (to appease that picky man who lives in the house).  We have been making them almost every night since (thank goodness for the two ice cream bases, right?  You take one out of the freezer and use it and stick the second one in there for tomorrow).  They're so easy, it's hard to resist!
Copycat Vanilla Frostys (adapted from Dine and Dish)
Serves:  2
1/4 cup Cool Whip
3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
1 cup skim milk**
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar

In a small bowl, whisk Cool Whip and sweetened condensed milk until fully combined.  Pour into your ice cream maker, already on.  Then, in that same bowl, add skim milk, vanilla extract, and sugar.  Whisk until fully combined and add to the ice cream maker.  Let the ice cream maker run for 12-15 minutes, until the mixture is fully frozen and at soft-serve consistency.  Serve immediately!

**Substitute the skim milk, vanilla extract, and sugar for an equal amount of chocolate milk and make chocolate Frostys instead!

Until the next time my oven is on...
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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