Friday, September 12, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Salted Caramel Creme Brulee

Today we are off to the cabins in New York with the whole clan.  It's the same thing we do every year and it always heralds the beginning of autumn for me.  After all, we go apple picking.  So...yeah.  Apples are autumn.  Period.  While I'm picking up pounds of apples this weekend, last weekend we picked up pounds of flour and sugar in preparation. 

But because I don't have those apples quite yet, I wanted to share a new lovely dessert that, I think, is perfect for this kind of weather.  John was craving creme brulee a couple of weeks back and I'm always happy to oblige his cravings.  But, just doing any old creme brulee seemed, well, boring.  When I found the recipe for salted caramel pot de cremes, I knew I could make them into creme brulee in a snap!

They were creamy and delicious and if they only had some chocolate to go with them (chocolate fiend that I am), it would have been altogether the perfect dish!  I like serving them in the ramekins because John and I can share one and feel less guilty than having a full dessert each.  Although we may fight for the very last bits...I'll never tell.
Salted Caramel Creme Brulee (adapted from here)
Serves:  4 (4 ramekins)
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/8 cup water
3/4 cups fat-free half and half
1/4 cup skim milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Place 4 four ounce ramekins in a large roasting pan.  Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed, medium saucepan, combine 3/4 cups sugar and water.  Cook over low heat until sugar is dissolved.  Then, bring the mixture to a rolling boil over medium heat, for 5-6 minutes until the mixture turns a light golden brown.  Immediately remove from heat.  Whisking constantly, add half and half and skim milk in a slow stream.  The mixture will harden so return to low heat and whisk for about 2-3 minutes until the mixture is fluid and there are no sugar chunks.

In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks until light and foamy.  Slowly, whisk the cream mixture into the egg yolks.  Divide mixture among the prepared ramekins.  Add hot water to the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for 35-45 minutes, until centers jiggle slightly when shaken but the edges are set.  Transfer the ramekins to wire racks and cool for 30 minutes.  Chill at least 4 hours or overnight. 

Divide the remaining sugar amongst the ramekins.  Using a blowtorch or the broiler in your oven, caramelize the sugar (2-3 minutes), watching carefully to ensure it doesn't burn too much.  Add the flaked sea salt on top and serve immediately.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Dorm Room Dinner: Greek Hummus Flatbreads

This has to be one of the easiest dinners I've made in a while but to be honest, it was so tasty that John has been asking for them again.  They are light and delicious.  Perfect for the last few warm days or now that kids are back to school when you're looking in the pantry and can't find a quick thing to make for dinner.

Plus, once you grill the "flatbreads", everyone can top them according to their own tastes.  Yup, nothing more that I like when John and I are both happy.  He gets to pour some weird spice concoction that burns his throat off when he eats and I get to add a little extra feta.  Just a little.  I'm trying to be good after all.

The hummus is the protein but if you feel like these are a little TOO light for your family, just add a grilled chicken breast that you've diced up or thinly sliced.  That way, you can have 2 of these and feel like you've eaten a real dinner. 
Greek Hummus Flatbreads
Serves:  4
8 flour tortillas
12 ounces prepared hummus (or make your own)
1 cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, diced
8 ounces feta cheese
8 ounces kalamata olives, diced

Lightly crisp the tortillas (you can do this in the oven or we like to do them right on the gas burners for a little charred / smoky taste).  Then, evenly divide the hummus over them.  Top with cucumber, tomato, red onion, feta, and kalamata olives.  Serve immediately. 
Thursday, September 4, 2014

Field Trip: Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park, AK

It's finally time for the 2nd half of our Alaska Adventure.  For the first part, click here!  We started our morning in Anchorage (early morning...5 am)!  Jumped on an early flight and then was in Juneau before you could even take a restful nap!  Coming into Juneau looked the way you would think Alaska did...foggy and chilly.  We got all of our stuff and headed out the door.

We were picked up that morning by Above & Beyond Alaska to trek to the Mendenhall Glacier.  When I found these pictures of ice caves, early into our Alaska planning, I tried every way I could think of to get us a day-long detour in Juneau to see them ourselves.  I wasn't planning on the day we had!  Our 2 guides were great; we each got a huge pack, gear, crampons (to walk over ice), etc.  And then we were off.  It was a 2 1/2 - 3 hour walk to the glacier itself.  We stopped and ate lunch and kept on trekking.  We layered up at the base of the glacier and spent about 2 hours on the glacier itself.  We did some ice climbing and explored some really cool ice caves.  The walk back was killer and by the time we made it to our hotel, the Juneau Hotel (smartly named), no one could think, let alone move. 

Surprisingly, we did move...onto dinner at Hangar on the Wharf, which is such a cool little spot right on the water.  We enjoyed watching the sparkly cruise ship lights and feasted on burgers and as much bread as the poor waitress could bring to the table. 

The next morning, we took advantage of the late check-out, rainy weather, and washers and dryers.  We did buckets full of laundry and then met around 11 am for brunch at the Sandpiper Cafe.  One of my favorite meals on the trip, this tiny little cafe was crowded!  I had the special which was french toast stuffed with blueberry-marscapone and topped with blackberries.  Can you just say "yum"?!

Then, we headed to the airport for our 14 minute (yes, you read that right) flight into Gustavus where we headed straight to Glacier Bay National Park.  While this hotel was nothing to be excited about,  the views were delicious.  The food was tasty and we ate at the hotel almost every night. 

Our first day there, we booked a fishing charter that allowed us to see so much landscape in the icy straits it was unbelievable.  We fished for halibut and salmon.  I caught my very own King Salmon which was too cool to be believed.  Overall, the 8 of us fished out about 150 pounds of fish which were processed and shipped overnight to us when we got home.  Yes, we are going to be eating fish for the next year at least!!

The next day we got up early for a boat tour that took us to the John Hopkins Glacier, a rare sight we were told since most ships usually skip it.  It was beautiful and we got to see some calving (ice breaking off the boat).  We also saw bears, otters, sea lions, porpoises, and lots of puffins!!!  Puffins and penguins are two of my animal obsessions so no one was happier than I was when they showed up alongside the boat.

Our last evening we went to the Bear Track Inn, an unbelievably beautiful wooden inn on the other side of the island.  The food was fantastic and the waitstaff was lovely.  We couldn't have asked for a better ending to our trip.

Except of course, that wasn't the ending. How could it be?  It seems much too perfect, right?  Well, that's because IT WAS!  John and I missed our connecting flight out of Anchorage by, no joke, 3 minutes.  We ended up waiting around on standby for about 3 hours until finally at 1 am we got on a flight to Salt Lake City and hoped somehow we'd be able to get home to NYC.  Luckily, we did and it went quickly.  But it just figures that is how we ended our crazy Alaskan Adventure. 
Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sassy Sweets: Frozen Cherry Coke Float Zipzicles

When I got two packages of Zipzicles in the mail to test out, no one was happier than I was!  I'm sure you remember when you were a kid and you were at a friend's party and they pulled out a case, literally a case of pops like these that tasted like fruit but were anything but?  Needless to say the mama of the house never let us have them at home. 

These zipzicles allow you to make your own - filled with fruit or other tasty options.  You decide exactly what goes in it!  And, of course, being me, I wanted to make something a bit different.  When I saw the warning on the zipzicle that said "Warning!  Do not use carbonated beverages as they expand during freezing" I couldn't think of anything better to try than cherry coke floats.

Sorry, I am that terrible kid that when someone tells me not to do something, I automatically want to do it more.  So, I went about making the floats.  I filled the zipzicles up just below the "fill line", and pushed all the air out.  I had no problems with my "carbonated beverage" although they did expand and air did fill up the top.  As long as you get all the air out before they freeze, I'm thinking you will have no problem.
Frozen Cherry Coke Float Zipzicles
Serves:  12
2 cups cherry coke
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup fat free half and half

In a large bowl whisk cherry coke, vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk, and half and half until fully combined.  Carefully pour into zipzicles just below the "fill line" and place in a container standing up (a large glass works perfectly for this).  Freeze for 4-6 hours, until hard.  Before serving, run the opening under hot water for easier opening.
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.
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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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