Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sassy Sweets: Peppercorn Chai Sugar Cookies

I love baking for the holidays - I think it was ingrained in my from my mom who every year around Thanksgiving would pull out all of her cookbooks and her and Dad (and us kids) got to pick a cookie for her to make that season.  She used to make 12 different cookies and we would bring huge platters of cookies to my aunt's house.  I remember us bringing cookies EVERYWHERE in December.  Mom is still a cookie machine and I enjoy matching her cookie for cookie.

This year though is a little different.  John and I bought a house the week of Thanksgiving and we've been spending every spare moment (which in my life with a week in Europe, holiday parties, etc. is not much) at the house / packing our current apartment!  That means that my normal favorite Christmas activities (getting a tree and decorating, festive decorations, and Christmas lights) have been curtailed for the moment.

It's hard having everything in 2 different places - the baking stuff is in the new house, the cookie sheets are in the apartment!  How to wrangle two different places is something we will luckily only be doing for another week or so until the repairs are done and we can move in.  When Raw Spice Bar gave me the opportunity to test some of their spice packets, I thought of course - I could use all the help I can get right now!  Their Peppercorn Chai spice mix intrigued me - in the same way my life is in 2 different places, this spice mix is too!  With my cookie making lacking this year, cookies were an obvious choice and they were the hit of the office when compared to the 5 flavors I made this year - no one could get over how good they were and they are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee or for the not-so-sweet lovers in your life.  Crispy on the outside but soft inside and literally bursting with flavor.

Raw Spice Bar makes a great last minute Christmas gift for every Foodie in your life!  I certainly would be thrilled to find it under the tree this year (hint, hint John!).

Peppercorn Chai Sugar Cookies
Serves:  24 (48 cookies)
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup butter
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 package Raw Spice Bar Peppercorn Chai Spice Blend (.3 ounces / 3 teaspoons approximately)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

In a large bowl cream together butter and sugar for 3-5 minutes until sugar is totally dissolved.  Add in eggs and vanilla extract, mixing until fully combined.  Add flour, Raw Spice Bar Chai Spice Blend, baking powder, and salt.  Combine until a soft dough forms (it will be sticky!).  Add flour to your hands and separate the dough into 4.  Roll each piece of dough into a cylinder (keep in mind the short side is going to be the size of the cookie so keep them short and stout!).  Roll the dough in decorating sugar and tightly wrap in plastic wrap.

Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Coat a baking sheet with cookie spray or a cookie mat.  Remove the logs from the fridge one at a time.  Cut each log into 1/4 inch rounds and lay each cookie on the prepared baking sheet, leaving an inch on either side.  Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the bottoms are a light golden brown.  Cool completely before handling (they will crumble otherwise!).

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Field Trip: Venice, Italy

In our house, I have a lot to be thankful for.  I've been very lucky this year with the amount of travel I've been able to accomplish.  My goal was to spend m 30th birthday year on a plane at least once a month and thus far, this goal has been accomplished - Italy, France, London, Chicago, Florida, Georgia, the list goes on.

One of my favorite trips was a tour of Italy that we took this summer, my whole family.  You may recall our Alaska vacation in 2014 which was tons of fun.  I'm very thankful that our family enjoys one another enough to want to do it all over again, this time in a foreign country!  No, it wasn't all hearts and butterflies, but it WAS a lot of fun!

We started our Italian adventure in the airport, or in reality, in the Delta lounge.  Dad, Brother E, John, and I headed up to the lounge all on my one Gold pass.  The woman at the desk felt bad for me choosing my "guest" from my boyfriend, my dad, and my brother, so she let us all slip in.  Shhh don't tell!  Dad and E were WOW'd by the spread although Mom and Sister K were decidedly less so waiting downstairs.

When we landed in Venice, we had a private water taxi to take us to our hotel.  The trip was great, and very cool to be going down little canals to get where we needed to go!  Eventually, we turned up at a little crevice in the wall (it could hardly be called even a walkway) and the driver let us out.  Unsure where to go, we wandered down and finally found the Corte Barozzi Suites where we stayed.  The rooms were all ready for us so everyone showered and got ready and in typical family fashion, off we went!

The first day, we had lunch at Cantino de Spade, where Casanova supposedly brought his dinner dates.  Then,  I had a huge gelato tour planned for us taking us from Rialto Market all the way around to San Marco square.  Six gelato stops and 8 people.  This was going to be good!  Unfortunately, in the end we only got to 4 but in between we also stopped at i Tre Mercanti for some tiramisu and some other specialty stores.  We also had a lot of fun poking around the Rialto market and looking at all the Venetian masks.  The gelato stop of my choice?  Suso Gelatoteca, frequently named the "best in Venice" I had their brand new for 2016 flavor - Sepa - a swirled gelato with fior de latte, lemon custard, and chocolate fondant.  So delicious!

My dad had chosen dinner at a great little restaurant right on the canal.  It was delicious and exactly what we all needed; we wandered home and enjoyed our suite with a private roof terrace overseeing the Grand Canal.  Sitting up on the terrace all together, eating our tiramisu was a memory that I will never forget!

The next morning, we had Secret Passage tickets at the Duomo.  I'd highly recommend it - we got a tour of a lot of spaces that aren't open to the public and we had a wonderful guide!  With only one English tour a day, book early!  We then went to the Teatro la Fenice (the main theater in Venice) and the Basilica san Marco where Sister M was made to wear a wrap because her arms were showing!

We then walked across the Grand Canal for dinner at Ristorante san Trovaso.  We wandered around after dinner, enjoying the winding streets and the gorgeous canals.

We had a lot more to see in Italy so the next day we woke up and headed to our rental car and then it was off to the Italian Countryside!
Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Field Trip: Paris, France

I'm of ftraveling again today - this time to Cannes so I figured it was high time to update you on some of the traveling we did this year!

When I thought about my 30th Birthday, I knew that I wanted to spend it in Paris.  I would have been OK with just John and I because well, let's face it, I was incredibly selfish - wanting my birthday 3000 miles away from my home city, in the city that holds my heart.  But, I really do have the most amazing family - they all took time off from work and got themselves on a plane to Paris to celebrate with me!

The weekend was planned to the minute (practically), showing my family MY Paris - the sights that I hold dear, the places I eat (and drool over in between) and the shopping!  Because I mean, you can't go to Paris and not enjoy some shopping.  I wish I could say I took more pictures but I didn't - I really just enjoyed myself!!

Our first day was spent on the Champs-Elysees.  We were staying right there and I figured when you are a little jet-lagged, wandering in and out of shops is an easy way to keep yourself going.  Since we touched down fairly early (6 AM), I had our driver meet us at the airport.  He's the driver I use everytime I am in Paris so he was thrilled to see us, even diverting our trip to the Hotel to his favorite boulangerie so we could have some freshly baked baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolates, etc.  To say we devoured these in the car could even be considered an understatement!

We had a large apartment for everyone so we were able to get right in and freshen up.  We maybe had a few more snacks and then off to the Arc de Triomphe.  Down the Champs and then around 11:30 a quick detour for lunch.  L'Entrecote is very well-known, this isn't a secret that only the French know about.  But, at 11:30 AM, before the tourists arrive, the place is packed with businessmen and women.  All french.  Plus, best of all - at that time, no waiting for a table!  They sat the 8 of us right away and we ate as much steak-frites as we could!

Fully fueled with protein, the next stop was a nice walk down the Seine.  I might have slightly misjudged this as our next stop was on Ile Saint-Louis and although I could swear I frequently walked this on my own, everyone started to get worn out.  We powered through though, as only my family can, and finally arrived at Berthillion.  I do not exaggerate when I say my family is full of ice cream connoisseurs but like me, they all succumbed to the rich flavors of Berthillion.

A walk through la Cite and through Notre Dame and it was almost time for dinner!  OK, yes, in advance you should know the entire trip was planned through meals.  It was MY birthday after all.  We meandered to our early dinner reservations at Ferdi (6:30 PM which as you all know is blasphemy in France but the only way I could get all 8 of us in).  Ferdi is trendy, there's no
other way to describe it but John and I had stumbled across it two years ago wandering around our hotel (the Westin on that trip).  We fell in love with the uniqueness and have continued going ever since.  Burgers and spanish tapas galore and we were off again.
vation at

On Friday nights, the Louvre stays open late so we took advantage of that by heading there right after dinner.  My sister, K, the art lover had identified 13 "must-see" paintings / exhibits and I had carefully mapped out each of them.  It was a targeted approach with maps laying out the best way to get from one to the other.  I left the Mona Lisa for last because the first time John and I went to the Louvre, we also did a late night and it turned out we were the only ones in the gallery!  It wasn't that deserted this time but we could walk right up to it without a group of jostling people around us.

We walked down the Champs-Elysees back to the apartment.  14 miles in the first day...with 2 more full days to go!

The second day was filled with the Eiffel Tower because, well, it needs it's own time.  I had pre-bought us lift tickets so we walked over there, a really scenic walk over the Seine and up to the top.  It
wasn't the nicest day so we didn't have really any lines to wait to get to the tippy top.  But, the views were still good and my family really fell in love with the structure / architecture of it.  Pictures don't do it justice.

We went to an early lunch at Cafe Tourville where John loves their oeufs brouilles (basically scrambled eggs made with cream and cheese). If you are looking for a great lunch spot, this isn't it.  But what it does have is all the French standards and a great location to sit outside.  I introduced sister M to chocolat chaud (French hot chocolate), which we drank from here on at every stop we could find.  And, I introduced sister K to the citron presse, a Parisian special that is basically a "make your own" lemonade.

We walked over to Les Invalides and did Napoleon's tomb and the war museums and then walked down rue Cler and back to our apartment.  The whole day was to be spent in the 7th because I had dinner reservations at  Philippe Excoffier.  This is another restaurant that once upon a time, John and I had stumbled upon.  The intimate restaurant run by Philippe himself (he is there whenever we go) is a real treat.  Plus, they are almost always filled with Parisians taking advantage of the great prix-fixe menu.  I was thrilled when they worked with us to get us in!  The dinner was delicious and the desserts were too including the souffles which John and I always love!

We got out just in time to see the Eiffel Tower light show (once an hour, on the hour, until 2 AM).  We walked back over the Seine and to our apartment where we watched the light show again.  It was time to get ready for my birthday.

Sunday we woke up and immediately headed to the brocante, or flea market.  It just so happened my Foire de Chatou, a fair that has been in existence for hundreds of years.  We took the train to Chatou and then wandered around the stalls.  We had lunch at the stalls and headed back on the train to the Musee d'Orsay.  Again, Sister K came through with pictures she wanted to see and we attacked to see everything right away!  Later that afternoon, we did a pastry tour through the 6th arrondissement, one of my favorites, sampling from Sadaharu Aoki with their modern pastries to Pierre Herme and his unique macaron flavors, to Maison Georges Larnicol for his chocolates and best of all Kouign Amann.
birthday coincided with the

We took all of that back to the apartment and prepared for dinner.  For dinner, we went to the ever trendy Miss Ko, right around the corner from the apartment.  We enjoyed fruity drinks and some great French-Asian fusions.  I particularly am always obsessed with their salmon teriyaki skewers and they have great sushi.  With an array of pastries to look forward to for dessert, it was truly one of those nights to remember.  Walking back to our apartment on the Champs-Elysees, looking at the Arc de Triomphe, it was impossible to think of a better way to spend my 30th birthday.  With those I love, in the city I love.  Best part of all?  Everyone else was thoroughly charmed too.  Even sister M's husband said he'd go back!  That is a true accomplishment!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Fancy Pants App: Stromboli

This weekend my big Italian family said goodbye to my Uncle Mike.  He was a man who invented work hard, play hard.  His whole life revolved around his family.  He looked like a mafioso but was a teddy bear inside.  And him and my aunt were a role model for all of us as an example of love and marriage.  They never had a lot, they worked hard, they raised three children, but they were always so happy together and were together over 50 years.

When we were very young, Mom tells us we used to be scared of Uncle Mike with his gruff exterior and tattoos everywhere.  But, as we grew up, we got to know him more than just that and loved his jokes (not all of them kid appropriate), his skills on a griddle (no one makes egg sandwiches like Uncle Mike), and, we grew up with his grandkids - 5 boys who are just about our ages - who adored everything about him.  He was a great man who showed us generations of kids what family means.  In large part to him and my aunt every one of us holds family as the most important thing we have.

One of Uncle Mike's mainstays was his stromboli.  Every Christmas he would make more than last year and every year we would eat it all.  It was impossible to have leftovers.  John and my sisters' husbands have come to love this tradition too and when I think about how much our family has lost, this symbolizes it all.  Whether you called him uncle, or dad, or grandpa, or even great-grandpa.  Or if you are my aunt who for 50+ years has called him her husband, our family is a close-knit group.  To the outside of the world, we are one (just the crust) but inside there are a lot of layers.  Today we're mourning the loss of one layer and although he has left us, he will go on in all of us.  Family is everything.
Stromboli (the secret recipe)*
Serves:  12 (or in my family, 6)
Pizza Dough:
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 package)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil (the good kind - don't skimp)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 tablespoons water

12 ounces mozzarella cheese
12 ounces pepperoni
12 ounces salami
12 ounces ham
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Pizza Dough:  In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar, and 1 tablespoon oil.  Leave for 5 minutes or until the mixture is foamy at the top.  Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and salt.  Mix by hand until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth.  Slowly add the rest of the flour (the dough will still be sticky).  Knead the dough 3-5 minutes with well-floured hands.  It will be smooth but slightly tacky.  Place into a well greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit for 1-2 hours until doubled in size. 

Stromboli;  Roll out the dough into a large rectangle.  Don't let the dough get too thin, about 1/4 of an inch should be the thickness all the way around.  Layer thin slices of mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, salami, and ham.  Season with garlic powder and Italian seasoning.  Then, slowly roll up the dough into a large log.  Place onto a greased cookie sheet.

Break the egg into a small bowl and combine it with the water.  Mix well.  Brush the top of the stromboli with the egg wash and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.  Let rise for 20-30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Cook 20-30 minutes until the top is golden brown.  Let cool about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  You can also premake this and put it in the freezer after cooking.  Slice it frozen and bake it.  Still delicious!  

*As an aside, I'd made this stromboli a few months back for a football party but every time I sat down to write a blog post, I couldn't.  I kept telling John I was just "stuck".  But this morning I woke up and knew that the blog post would write itself.  RIP Uncle Mike - we miss you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Brilliant Brunch: Triple Lemon Pound Cake

I was inspired to make this for sister K whose birthday is in 2 weeks but this is also perfect for that special mom in your life!!  Sister K was never a chocolate lover and she isn't big on sweets.  But give her something sweet and tart, and she is all about it!  She was always into lemon, sour patch kids, warheads - you get the picture.  Now that she's gluten and dairy free it's very hard to please her palate and her lifestyle.

When I found a triple lemon pound cake I knew it would be just up her alley.  Best of all, the cake was made with olive oil, not butter.  Of course, like many recipes, I had to improvise.  Luckily, there are so many companies right now making dairy free or gluten free ingredients that we just had to play around with it.

Sister K loved the cake but everyone else, gluten eaters (like John), did too!  Best of all, I have a wonderful co-worker who is also gluten free.  I was able to bake her a mini cake and brought it in on Monday.  She loved it, too!  You can top this with some fresh berries or whipped cream but to be honest, with the delicious lemon glaze, you don't even need it!!

Triple Lemon Pound Cake (adapted from Chew Out Loud)
Serves;  12 (12 slices)
2 cups yogurt (use almond-milk or silk yogurt for dairy free)
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup olive oil
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon zest
1 cup confectioner's sugar

Cake:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Lightly grease a loaf pan and set aside.  In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, vanilla, and olive oil.  Whisk 3-4 minutes until the ingredients are well-incorporated.  Add flour and baking powder and fold in gently until most of the lumps are gone.  Pour batter into the loaf pan and bake 60-70 minutes, until cake is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out mostly clean.

Syrup:  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine lemon juice and sugar.  Whisk over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Poke holes all over the cake (which should be just warm to the touch).  Brush the syrup over the holes using a pastry brush, until the cake has soaked in all of the syrup.  Let cake cool completely.

Glaze:  In a small bowl, beat lemon juice, lemon zest, and confectioner's sugar until glaze forms and can be drizzled.  Drizzle generously over the top of the cake.  Let set for about 5 minutes, and then serve immediately.

Cake can be stored after fully assembled in an airtight container on the counter for  no longer than 3 days.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Date Night Dinner: Lemon and Garlic Scallops

John and I are gearing up for a little getaway for ourselves in the UK.  We've been to London so many times now that we're going to take 4 days to work at our respective offices and then rent a car (yes, I'm driving!) and head out to explore sights unseen in the UK.  Including Bath, the Cotswolds, and a race track (for me, obviously).  I'm in a rush to use up everything in our fridge and freezer over the next 2 weeks!

It doesn't help that we were lured into a good deal and bought about 20 lemons on sale last weekend.  Basically lately everything I have cooked or baked has had some lemon something in it!  We've also made some homemade lemonade which John is enjoying basically every time I turn around.  I knew I shouldn't have taught him how easy it is!

Saturday was a not so nice day in the city but I braved the weather and went to our local fish store for some fresh scallops.  They are some of John's favorites and we don't get to eat them that much (mainly because they aren't cheap).  I knew I had to use up at least two lemons so I made up a sauce that was so good I felt like I had to share it with you.  It wouldn't be fair otherwise.
Lemon and Garlic Scallops
Serves:  2
1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper
10 bay scallops
2 tablespoons garlic
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream

In a heavy bottomed large saucepan, swirl oil to coat the bottom.  Set aside.

In a small bag shake flour, salt, and pepper until well-combined.  Then, add scallops, tossing gently to coat.

Heat the saucepan over medium-high heat.  When oil is warm, place scallops in the saucepan, ensuring all 10 fit comfortably.  Cook 4 minutes and then turn each to the other side.  Cook an additional 2 minutes.  Then, turn heat to medium-low and add garlic, half of the lemon juice and lemon zest.  Cook until garlic is fragrant, 2-3 minutes.  Turn heat to low and add butter, stirring until melted, and whipping cream, stirring until fully combined.  Remove from heat and drizzle in remaining lemon juice and zest.  Stir well, tossing the scallops to coat.

Serve immediately; place 5 scallops on each place over a bed of risotto or rice.  Top generously with sauce.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Sassy Sweets: Gluten and Dairy-Free Honey Cookies

Happy Spring everyone!  I know it's been a while but we have some really awesome recipes to share over the next few weeks that I've been cooking and baking up in our kitchen.  Not to mention a recap of the best every 30th birthday one could have (in Paris, bien sur).

One of my favorite US cities is Chicago.  We always stay at the Palmer House and it is such a gorgeous place.  They have so many cool and interesting twists for a foodie like me, it's unreal.  The last time I was there, I was gifted some delicious honey from their rooftop bees.  I've kept it hidden in our cabinet because well, I wanted to make something absolutely perfect, showcasing the delicious and rich flavors they are able to coax out of some pretty ambitious city bees!

When I found these cookies from Bob Red Mill, I couldn't pass up the chance to put everything together, especially for Sister K who is still gluten and dairy free (although, she cheated in Paris but I don't think that counts, right?!). These cookies were almost a complete fail because as usual, I could hardly be bothered to read the recipe and I had about 3 dishes going on at one time.  These cookies SPREAD OUT!  So unlike my usual cram as many cookies onto a cookie sheet method, these have to be done in 6-cookie increments.

Plus, we only have one slipmat and had no parchment paper so there were about a solid hour of just baking 7.5 minute cookies.  And patient I am not.  I completely sampled a good number of them while doing so.  It's not overly complex, just a super simple yet delicious cookie that is dairy AND gluten free.  It's perfect for sister K, the spring, and would make a great ice cream sandwich!
Gluten and Dairy-Free Honey Cookies (adapted from Bob's Red Mill)
Serves:  15 (30 cookies)
1/2 cup canola oil
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup honey (really good honey)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour (I use 1:1 gluten free flour from Bob's but if you're not gluten free, you can use all-purpose)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or slipmats.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine olive oil, sugar, and honey until fully combined and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined and sugar is dissolved.  Don't rush this!  It will take about 5 minutes.  Add flour, baking soda, and baking powder and mix until just combined.

Chill for at least 30 minutes up to overnight, covered in the refrigerator

Place turbinado sugar in a small shallow dish.  Shape 1 tablespoon of cookie dough into a ball.  Roll it in the sugar.  Repeat until all balls have been rolled in sugar.  Place 2 1/2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 7-8 minutes, until the cookies are golden in color.  Allow to cool and store in an airtight container.  These are best fresh or within 24 hours, even when stored as they lose their crispiness.

*NOTE:  The original recipe did not call for chilling but the dough was so wet that I couldn't form balls without getting it all over my hands.  Chilling it in the refrigerator firmed it right up!
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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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