Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sassy Sweets: Latte Cookies

For the past few years, I have been actively trying (and actively failing) to sign up for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!  Every year around Thanksgiving, I think to myself, remember that cookie swap?  You wanted to be in it.  Why don't you look it up and see what's going on?

Every year, by that time, sign-ups are closed and I'm out of the loop, again, vowing, again, to make it in time next year.  Finally, by last year, I was so annoyed I missed it, I just signed up for their newsletter.  Easy, I thought.  I'll get a little sign-up form the DAY it goes out!  Of course that is exactly what happened, and I ALMOST missed it again just due to travel schedules and hectic lives.  But, I remembered on the very last day and signed up.  WOO!  This year I am IN!

Now though, comes the tricky part.  I have to figure out the type of cookies I want to make.  The last three weekends I have whipped up a few batches of cookies.  Each of them was met with a resounding chorus of happiness from John.  I can't send them all so I have picked one and the rest of them, well, you all get to enjoy in advance!
Latte Cookies
Serves:  18 (3 dozen cookies)
3/4 cups butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon espresso powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2/3 cups white chocolate chips
2/3 cups dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and brown sugar until well-combined.  Add vanilla and egg and beat until the mixture is smooth.  Add flour, espresso powder, and baking soda.  On low speed, carefully mix the dry ingredients in until the dough is completely mixed.  Stir in white chocolate and dark chocolate chips.

Using two spoons, scoop onto ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake 8-10 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown on the bottom and look dry on top.  Let cool and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fancy Pants App: Loaded Skillet Fries

This weekend we are going to the Giants-Patriots game at the Meadowlands!  It is something I have been looking forward to since we got the tickets in late August.  Obviously this doesn't happen to us too often which means we have to make a football experience every other Sunday when we're just on the couch!

I struggle thinking up new appetizer / snacks for the games week after week.  Of course, new and exciting ones are preferable because then, well, I can share them with all of you!  These fries are just the ticket and, best of all, everything is made in just one cast-iron skillet.  If that isn't the easiest thing ever, I'm not sure what is.

They reminded me a lot of these mini potato skins but a little more fun (and as we already said, way easier).  As John told me, no one would turn down bacon and cheese on potatoes.  I guess he's right.  The skillet went so fast, it was almost embarrassing.  Luckily, no one but us was around to witness it!
Loaded Skillet Fries 
Serves:  4
6 pieces bacon
2 large Yukon potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons paprika
6 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons light sour cream

Place bacon in a heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet and cook over medium heat until crispy.  Remove the bacon and place on a paper towel to drain.  Then crumble and set aside.  Drain almost all of the bacon oil, leaving about 2 teaspoons to cover the bottom of the skillet.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Meanwhile, clean the potatoes and cut into wedges.  Place potatoes evenly over the bottom of the skillet and up the sides.  Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, and paprika.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the potatoes are browned.  Evenly distribute cheddar cheese and bacon crumbles.  Broil for 3 minutes.  Dollop sour cream over the skillet prior to serving.
Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Weeknight Dinner: Spinach-Artichoke Pizza

The weekends are relaxing times for me, mostly.  I like to take half the day Saturday, go to the library, read a book, generally relax.  I usually make a big dinner on Saturday and call that a win.  We often are able to have leftovers from the week for lunch on Saturdays, but not always.

A couple of weeks ago, I was headed to London for just 2 days.  It wasn't going to be a big deal of a trip but I wanted to run into a few shops in our area to get some last minute clothes, books, etc.  We had been out for most the morning and so we treated ourselves to a little pizza place only a few blocks from home.

We hardly ever eat there but it is John's favorite pizza in the neighborhood.  He ordered a spinach and artichoke slice that was absolutely incredible!  When he had demolished it, and I had destroyed the small piece he gave me, I thought it wouldn't be that hard to replicate at home.  Friday nights are pizza nights in our house so it wasn't even a full week since we had sampled the slice that I had figured out a way to make our own!  And it was so easy, John's not letting me make any excuses for making it again and again!
Spinach-Artichoke Pizza
Serves:  4
3 ounces cream cheese
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 cup marinated artichokes
1 handmade pizza dough
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon italian seasoning
1 tablespoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  In a small food processor, combine cream cheese, spinach, and artichokes until fully combined.  Roll pizza dough out onto a greased pizza pan.  Spread the cream cheese mixture over the top.  Top evenly with mozzarella cheese.  Then, lightly sprinkle red pepper flakes, italian seasoning, and garlic powder.

Bake 13-15 minutes until the top just starts to brown.  Serve immediately.  To store leftovers, place in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Field Trip: Universal Studios and Harry Potter World

My family has been Harry Potter fans for years.  It all goes back to when my Aunt and Uncle gave sister K a trio of books for Christmas.  K wasn't much of a reader (still isn't come to think of it) so we started reading the books all together.  Soon, all 3 of us were hooked.  As new books came out, we'd read them aloud to make sure no one missed a single minute of the books.

We were the crazy fans that waited at midnight for the 6th book, and then the 7th.  It was a huge part of our childhood that we, all 3 of us, experienced together.  So, when Harry Potter world was first announced at Universal, it got put on our "must visit" list.  That was years ago though and since none could visit without the others, it took until September 2015 for us to make the pilgrimage.

If you are a Harry Potter (or HP as we affectionately call him in our house) fan, you are never going to find another place like this.  Even John, a non-HP fan enjoyed the experience.  You walk through Universal and you end up at the very back of the park.  We wanted to start our adventure in Diagon Alley, as HP does in his books.  However, in the heat of September, you do NOT want to be in Hogsmeade with no shade in the afternoon.  So, we started in Hogsmeade.

We headed straight to Hogwarts where Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride takes place.  The line, when we got there was 45 minutes long.  As soon as we got into the castle, we realized why.  Contrary to popular belief, people were not standing in line.  The details in the castle (while ostensibly you are to be waiting in line), were so rich people were just NOT moving.  As huge fans ourselves, we were happy to stroll despite the large gaps between groups to see the moving portraits, Dumbledore's office, and the entrance to Griffyndor's common room.

By the time we strolled our way to the front, we were put right on the ride.  The ride keeps everyone moving by making you get on the seat while it moves along a conveyor belt.  Talk about pressure for those non-coordinated among us (i.e. me).  The ride was like nothing I"ve ever been on before.  Part simulation, part roller-coaster, it was enjoyable to everyone.

The next stop was Ollivander's as it had a very, very short line and we were nervous about the line at Diagon Alley (a pointless worry as the entire time we were there, we saw not one line at Ollivander's in Diagon Alley so wait to do it in the original Ollivander's).  We got a great show where 2 siblings were chosen to allow the wands to choose them!  And then, we were into the shop to buy wands.  At $50, you can buy a wand that allows you to interact within the park.  And it is COOL for adults as well as kids.  In fact, the wands are rather sensitive and it took both K and M time to adjust to them.

We had an early lunch at the Three Broomsticks, the best way we realized to avoid crowds was to eat around 11:30.  We enjoyed frozen butterbeer and cold butterbeer (frozen was better), and for lunch we had their Great Feast.  It is a lunch for 4 that was more like a lunch for 6!  Roasted chicken, delicious roasted potatoes, and roasted veggies.  It was delicious!  Also among the favorites was the fish and chips, freshly fried and completely tasty.

Off to the Hogwart's Express.  We were 8 people, a perfect compartment on the train and we filled in rather quickly.  It was a fun ride to King's Cross Station, looking exactly as it does in the movies.  We filed out onto the streets of London.  Diagon Alley is tucked away, just as in the books, so as not to be invaded by Muggles.  We hung out at the Knight Bus, saw Kreacher peeking through the windows at 11 Grimmald Place and then headed into Diagon Alley where we found ourselves immersed in a wizarding world.  Robes, wands, Gringott's money, it's all there.

Diagon Alley had so much to see and do we ended up spending most of the day there.  First up was the Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes.  As if it had stepped out of the pages of the books themselves, the shop is a small yet stuffed space filled with delicious jokes to share with all your loved ones.  The shop's entrance is so cute and something you could stare at for a few minutes enjoying it all!  There's also a large dragon on top of Gringott's bank who blows fire.  It's not on a timeframe, it is "at her whim" the nice man standing there told us.

We went onto the Harry Potter Escape from Gringotts ride and once again were shocked by the gorgeous details of the line!  The bank was recreated with such detail that no one wanted to walk quickly through the line!  Everyone ended up standing and watching the goblins do their work or talk to you.  Then, we went down into the vaults and got on the ride.  Another fantastic mix of virtual reality, roller coaster, and props, we all thoroughly enjoyed it!

After a quick stop at Florean Forescue's Ice Cream Parlour - butterbeer ice cream, chocolate and chili ice cream, every one was fantastic, we were off to explore the rest of the park!
The next day, we got started with lunch at the Leaky Cauldron; unfortunately, it was rainy that day and by the time we got back to Hogsmeade we were really chilled.  We stopped at Hog's Head for some adult drinks and hot butterbeer, our favorite butterbeer type!  It tasted exactly like what you would imagine Harry and his friends drank on their visits to Hogsmeade in the winter!  For HP fans like us,, this was an amazing experience.  One, I imagine that is only rivaled by London itself (which of course, John and I have had the pleasure of visiting ourselves) but necessary for everyone who wants to walk a day in Harry's shoes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Time-Out: Fresh Egg Pasta

Fresh egg pasta is a lot easier than anyone would give it credit for.  Three ingredients, and I would bet that if you bake even once a month, you have all of the ingredients already in the house.  That makes it very difficult to pull out that box of pasta when you can whip up some homemade pasta in 30 minutes.

Making it even more difficult to resist making our own pasta?  The fact that during Amazon's "deal days" in July, we picked up an "authentic" Italian pasta maker.  You still have to hand crank but I sort of like that.  It's like an evolution to my rolling pin recipe.

John thoroughly enjoyed putting the machine together and then hand cranked as I fed the pasta through.  He was as happy as I've ever seen him cranking out pasta before his eyes.  Never mind that I made the dough, rested the pasta, and rolled it out to start with.  No, by the time we cut the fettucine, John is crowing gleefully "I make pasta like a BOSS".  Yes, honey, yes you do.  Now if that isn't enough reason to get the machine out once a month or so...I don't know what is!
Fresh Egg Pasta (adapted from Serious Eats)
Serves:  4
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt

Pour the flour out onto a clean surface.  Form a well with high walls.  Pour in the eggs, egg yolks, and salt.  Using a fork, mix the eggs into the flour, pushing the walls back each time to ensure no eggs escape, until a scraggly dough forms.  Then, work the rest of the flour into the dough and the dough becomes uniform.

Using your hands, knead the dough for 5-10 minutes until the dough becomes very smooth and somewhat elastic.  The dough will seem fairy dense and dry at first but keep working it and it comes together very nicely.

Rest the dough for 30 minutes on the counter or, if over 30 minutes, in the fridge.  Cut the dough into 2 halves.  Keep one in the fridge until ready to use.  With the first half, roll out into an oblong shape.

Using the biggest opening in the pasta roller as possible, roll the dough through once, then again.  Using a book fold, fold the two edges of the dough into the center, and then over once, like a book.  This will make the dough a perfect rectangle.  Roll out slightly.  Then, roll through the pasta maker again 3 times.  Choose the next setting on the pasta roller and roll the dough through that setting twice.  Choose the next setting on the pasta roller and roll the dough through that setting twice.  Then, roll once through the 4th setting and once through the 5th setting.

Finally, cut into 18-inch sheets.  Roll through each sheet on the fettuccine setting.  Roll with a fork.

To cook immediately, cook in boiling salted water for 90 seconds, stirring once to ensure the fettuccine separates.  Drain and serve with your favorite sauce.

Freeze for later - freeze small nests of pasta on a cookie sheet.  Once frozen, place into a large zipper, freezer-safe bag, making sure there is no excess air in the bag.  Freeze for no longer than 3 weeks.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Sassy Sweets: Almond Pear Crisp

This year we went apple picking so late, we were also able to score a bunch of different types of pears.  Pears are one of John's favorite fruits so this was extremely welcome.  Of course, one can only eat so many pears before we need to change it up.  I wanted to make something new and unique so I took to looking a bunch online.

At Cooking Light, I found a great recipe that called for amaretti cookies.  I felt like a terrible Italian-American as I have never heard of these types of cookies before.  Not only had I never heard of them, I also couldn't find them!  Five grocery stores later and I was still coming up short.  But, that's when Mom came up the heroine of the story.

She and I found almond biscotti that could, in a pinch, be substituted for these cookies.  So, while John was out with his friends last weekend, I made him an almond pear crisp, and it was bubbling away when he walked in the door.  And now I have put yet another thing on my Italy bucketlist - find and eat Amaretti cookies.
Almond Pear Crisp
Serves:  9
8 pears
2 tablespoons flour
8 almond biscotti (1 cup of crumbs)
1/4 cup almonds
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel the pears and dice them chunky.  Toss in flour and pour into a 9x9 baking pan.  In a food processor, add almond biscotti and almonds.  Chop until the mixture is coarse crumbs.  Add flour and brown sugar and process two to three times, until combined.  Cut the butter up into 24 pieces.  Add the pieces slowly while processing until the mixture forms small pebbles.  Cover the pears with the almond mixture.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the crust is browned.  Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Sassy Sweets: Tipsy Apple Crumb Cake

Last weekend we went apple picking, as we do every year.  And sure I've made now a few pounds of apple sauce, apple piesapple muffins, and my favorite fall dinner.  But, I had yet to test my skills in a new and exciting way.  When John started bothering me to make crumb cake, I thought we would have to mix it up a little.  There's only so many crumb cakes and apple pies I can make until it becomes tedious.

So, I mixed it up.  A sweet layer of calvados caramel apples and crumbs, this is a really sweet crumb cake.  As you know, I frequently blur the "crumb cake" appropriateness from breakfast to sweet but this one falls directly on the sweet category.  Unless you want to get a little tipsy during breakfast, serve this one as a perfectly sweet way to celebrate the end of an autumn day.

It is finally getting chilly in NYC so there will definitely be mroe baked goods hitting the blog - stay tuned!
Tipsy Apple Crumb Skillet Cake
Serves:  8-10
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, cut into tablespoons

Tipsy Apples:

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 apples, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons Calvados (or substitute apple brandy or applejack)

3/4 cup cake flour1/4 cup sugar1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, softened

1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons buttermilk 

Crumb:  In a small bowl combine flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Cut the butter in until small pebbles of dough form.  Set aside.

Tipsy Apples:  Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over low heat.  Add brown sugar and cool until a dark caramel forms.  Add in the apples, being careful as the caramel will spit.  Stir in the Calvados and toss apples until they are softened.  Set aside.

Cake:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Stir together flour, sugar, and baking soda in a small bowl.  Mix in butter, egg, vanilla extract, until well-combined.  Fold in buttermilk.  Pour into a greased 9-inch cast iron skillet.  Bake for 5 minutes.  Then, remove cake from the oven and put apples evenly over the top of cake, then crumbs evenly over the top of the apples.  Bake 15-20 minutes until the cake is fully cooked through (tested with a toothpick, the toothpick should come out clean).  

Serve warm or let cool and place in an airtight container until ready to use.  

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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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