Friday, December 30, 2011

Good-bye 2011!

This has been a year of very successful cooking ventures on the blog, and in life!  For all of our pleasure, John and I have put together some of our favorites :) I hope you take a second look at them!  And, we hope for a very happy, healthy, wonderful 2012 for all of us.

Date Night Dinner - Spinach Stuffed Shells

Until the next time my oven is on...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Banana Cream Pie Parfait

Change is always hard, isn't it?  I hope you'll tell me it is.  The last few weeks have done a number on my normally sunny disposition.  Moving in with my parents, working in a new city, at a new job, and leaving John has been difficult, to say the least.  In Boston I was inspired by the city, the North End and its people, and most especially, my life.  I loved the walk to work, even on those frozen bitter days, or in the rain and wind.  It was my life, I had carved it for myself, and it, in turn, gave me a wonderful sense of satisfaction, pride, and achievement.  One that influenced me, every day; one that still has a piece of my heart.

New York City is a hard adjustment; it is gray and drab.  The stores attempt to distract you from the grayness with blaring music, lights, and interesting window displays; don't stop though, you might get run over.  Everyone moves too quickly; lights change and thirty people jostle towards the other side of the street; cars honk, endlessly; people work long hours, and they don't have outside passions.  They don't understand the cooking obsession like I know you all do.  Even to get from the train to the street, I have to wait IN LINE to take an escalator or go up the stairs.  An actual line--we're not talking 2 or 3 people, we're talking 20. 

When I first got to Boston it had its own set of challenges; I needed to carve out my place and I was usually so exhausted from trying to "live" on my own and adjust to a full-time work schedule after college that most nights dinner consisted of Lean Cuisine or salads.  I always ate lunch out.  It took a few months until I really hit a stride.  Now, though, it is compounded because I miss John and I's weekend life together which has been disrupted, stunted.  The time we get together now seems woefully small. 

Last week it was John's birthday and like the selfless man that he is, he came to see me.  Another sign of his selflessness is that birthdate is also celebrated by billions around the world.  In fact, in the hullabaloo many forget John's birthday at all.  This year, he requested a birthday cake made from his favorite dessert.  It is rare for John to pick a dessert that no one else loves; he loves to share (the opposite of me).  How could I refuse?  He is the one that stoically reminded me, after I moved far away from HIM, to a new city, one I can't quite get my footing in yet, "if we can make it here, we can make it anywhere".  And I obliged.  And in making this for him, I realized something important about us.  It may be true that making it "here" is a pinnacle of success.  But as long as we are together, then I know we can make it anywhere. 

So, John got his Banana Cream Pie in single servings.  I got an extra day with the man I love, and as I looked ahead to 2012, I thought about our lives this year.  We had a lot of ups and downs, big and small changes.  Some caught on the blog, others not.  All of them have had their own set of challenges and we overcame them; the coming challenges might be harder, they might not.  But I will keep looking forward to the moments we have together, the ones that remind me how lucky I am to have found him at all.
Banana Cream Pie Parfait (adapted from here)
Serves:  6 parfaits (6 people)
2 cups graham crackers
1/3 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 bananas, sliced
Crush the graham crackers.  Mix together with 1/4 cup of sugar and melted butter until the crumbs are well-moistened and sugar is evenly dispersed.  Place onto a small cookie sheet, spreading out to resemble crust.  Cut into large pieces and evenly place half of the mixture into six parfait glasses.  Separate the egg yolks into a bowl and set aside.  In a medium saucepan, combine the rest of the sugar, corn starch and milk over medium heat.  Stir constantly.  When the mixture is thickened and bubbly, remove from heat.  Whisk the egg yolks; whisking constantly, slowly pour in the warm milk mixture.  After adding about half of the mixture, return it back into the saucepan.  Cook for two more minutes to fully thicken the pudding.  Remove from heat, stir in vanilla. Place half of a banana (sliced), into the bottom of your parfait glasses.  Add some banana slices into the parfait glass.  Top with half of the pudding.  Add more pie crust, bananas, and then pudding. Refrigerate at least 6 hours, optimally overnight. Top with whipped cream and more bananas before serving.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, December 26, 2011

Date Night Dinner: French Dip Sandwiches

Did everyone have a nice holiday weekend?  I hope so.  Now that it's over, though, my focus (obviously) goes to the New Year. Despite the fact that I really dislike change (don't worry, we'll get to this Wednesday), I do love the New Year.  It's a clean slate; a chance to believe that this year is another to achieve your dreams.

Since I was about 8 years old I've written in a diary.  Over the years, I've completed at least a dozen of them filled with my thoughts and happenings (like what we ate for dinner, very insightful stuff here). The urge to write comes and goes, and most of it really isn't very controversial.  But, they are still my memories.  I love to reread them because they immediately transport back to those emotions, feelings, and I can relive the memories.  I love it.  Every year I've written in my New Years resolutions.  Through the years they have changed, but what always remains the same is my goal to try to be a better person.  I measure it differently, depending upon the year, but its always there. 

This New Year, I want to try and focus on the little things.  Taking the small moments for myself, and those I love.  When I saw these sandwiches on Pass the Sushi over six months ago, they sat in my "favorites" for a long time.  At least once a week, I checked them out; always dismissing them because they were so much work.  But, trying to take some small moments for everyone, I decided I had to make these in 2011.  Similarly, John asked if we could cook our own prime rib soon.  I figured that was too close to these sandwiches not to give it to him.  These were worth the time, even though you doubt it when you're in the middle of things.  I did almost all of the prep work the day before, and that really helped everything set up.  It also split up the work, and kept my head together! 
French Dip Sandwiches (adapted from here)
Serves: 6 (6 sandwiches)
Onion Spread
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced thin
6 shallots, sliced thin
2 bunches scallions, chopped (separate white and green parts)
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 cup chopped garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 3 lb. beef eye round roast
1 cup low-sodium beef broth (4 total, divided)
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 sprigs parsley

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
3 cups low-sodium beef broth (4 total, divided)
2 teaspoons sherry

6-6 inch sub rolls
For the Onion Spread: In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and stir until golden (35 minutes).  Add shallots and scallion whites.  Cover and cook, stirring often until browned (another 25 minutes).  Stir in the scallion greens, remove from heat and place in the fridge to cool.  (To speed up this process, place the mixture on a cookie sheet so it is flat, and it will chill in about 15-25 minutes.)  Chop the onion mixture with a sharp knife on the cookie sheet and transfer it to a bowl.  Add sour cream, mayonnaise, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce.  Refrigerate (at least 2 hours, up to 2 days).

For the Beef: Combine the garlic and salt into a paste with a mortar and pestle or back of a large spoon.  Transfer to a bowl, add oil and pepper.  Cut small slits all over the beef with a very sharp knife.  Use your fingers to push the garlic paste into the slits.  Refrigerate overnight (at least 1 hour).
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle with 2 teas salt and 1/2 teas pepper. Place on a rack in a roasting pan; add 1 cup broth, water, celery, and onion. Sprinkle parsley sprigs over the top.  Roast for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F.  Roast until a thermometer inserted into the center of the beef registers 115 degrees F, between 45 and 55 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; let rest 20 minutes. Strain and reserve the pan juices.
For the Jus: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir for a minute. Whisk in the reserved pan juices and the remaining 3 cups of broth slowly.  Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sherry.  Keep warm until serving.
Assemble the sandwiches: Toast the rolls  cut side down in the oven (425 degrees F for about 5-10 minutes).  Brush the rolls with some of the onion spread. Thinly slice the beef against the grain. Dunk the slices in the jus, then layer on the rolls. Serve with the remaining jus in small bowls for dipping.

It may take a while, but oh how well we ate!  And isn't that the point?  I still am dreaming about that onion spread, probably the best spread I have ever made.  Don't rush it, golden brown is key and you don't get that unless the pot gets a lot of love.  The stirring clears my mind, though, so I didn't mind.

Until the next time my oven is on...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Anise Cookies

Christmas means anise time in our house.  My mom loves the taste of anise so they show up in at least one of our many cookie recipes that are made during the holiday season.  Being home in New York now, I am watching more of the cookie making than I have in the past 7-8 years.  It was hard to come up with a "favorite" that I really wanted to showcase.

When Mom and I started talking about a cookie for the blog, she immediately suggested the anise cookies because they are very finnicky.  The first year Mom made them was over 10 years ago and they puffed up like the traditional cookie easily, quickly, and no one could get enough of them.  Mom always judges cookie recipes by how many people eat them, and then ask for them to be put back onto the cookie list the next year.

Well, after that successful venture, Mom made them the next year, but they were flat as could be.  Disappointed, but still in love with anise, Mom made them every few years for the last 10 years.  This year (with the help of a new mixer), Mom had another success!  These anise cookies are everything you could want in a holiday cookie and the smell emanating from the kitchen is phenomenal!

Anise Cookies  (adapted from here)
Serves:  45
3 eggs
3 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon anise extract
2 tablespoons anise seeds

In a large bowl, beat eggs and sugar together for 15 minutes at high speed.  Make sure it is a full 15 minutes.  Gradually stir in flour, anise extract, and anise seeds.  Spoon out dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto well-greased cookie sheets.  Decorate, if desired.  Let the cookies stand uncovered for at least 4 hours.  Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.  Bake cookies for 12 to 15 minutes until cookies brown slightly.  Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks. 

Enjoy the holidays!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, December 19, 2011

Stand Out Sides: Apple Cider Rosemary Roasted Carrots

When I first saw these carrots a week before Thanksgiving, I immediately forwarded them to Mom.  We always have carrots on Thanksgiving, but usually they are just a non-descript side dish; Mom's anxious try to get a healthy food on the table.  But if everything else, from the turkey to the sweet potatoes, were getting upgrades this year, why couldn't our carrots?!

Luckily for me, Mom agreed.  They were a great side dish and were very festive.  In fact, I'd really enjoy them any time during the fall / winter, which is why I'm sharing them with you!  The week before Christmas every blog is flooded by Christmas cookies.  But that doesn't mean that the rest of your holiday feast should fall by the wayside.  Last week, I shared one of my favorite holiday breads.  Today, the perfect holiday vegetable.  Even M&M, the world's pickiest eaters loved them and there wasn't a single bite left over the next day! 

This apple cider syrup is amazing and it can be drizzled on just about anything; what a festive way to celebrate the holidays!  I made it a few days before so when we were ready to make the carrots it had been melding and we didn't need to stress about it the day of!
Apple Cider Rosemary Roasted Carrots (adapted from here)
Serves:  6
2 pounds fresh carrots
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon apple cider syrup
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Peel the carrots, cut off the ends and cut into thin sticks. In a large bowl, toss the carrots, olive oil, apple cider syrup, and nutmeg, until the carrots are evenly coated. Spread the carrots into a glass baking dish, making sure not to overlap the carrots. Add in the 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the rosemary springs and discard.  Bake another 10-15 minutes until the carrots start to brown, but are still slightly firm.


Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Time-Out: Garlic Herb Braided Bread

I love bread.  Really, any kind of bread, but especially one that has just come out of the oven.  Still warm.  Yummy.  In fact, you could probably call me a bread "addict".  John knows if we have bread from the bakery, or I make it, he better get it fast before it is gone.  How sad.  But the truth is I got it from my dad.  Yes, much to my mom's chagrin, Dad is also a bread addict. 

In fact, funny story, last week he was really craving bread from Panera.  Mom made my Leftover Vegetable Soup (with her own vegetable mixture, mind you) and made a special trip to Panera to get him Asiago bread (how good does that sound?).  Anyway, upon Mom's return home from her meeting later that night, half the bread was gone!  Haha, Dad had himself a nice little dinner of bread and soup. 

When we were en route to San Diego, I had the pleasure of sitting between Mom and Dad.  She was bookmarking recipes to make from the Taste of Home magazine.  She skipped right past this bread until I made her go back.  Dad leaned over from his seat to study the bread in further depth.  That's when she knew she was beat.  So, it got put on the Thanksgiving menu.  It was a huge hit, too!  In fact, we liked it so much, it's going to make an appearance at Christmas dinner.  It's the perfect holiday bread, and looks beautiful when it's sitting out on the table.
Garlic-Herb Bread (adapted from Taste of Home Test Kitchen)
Serves:  16 (1 loaf)
4 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons of quick-rise yeast (2 packages)
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 3/4 teaspoons dill weed
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoons garlic powder
3/4 teaspoons dried rosemary
3/4 cup skim milk (suggested:  2%)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter, melted

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flower, sugar, yeast, and seasonings.  In a small saucepan, heat the milk, water, and butter until butter has melted and mixture is smooth.  Add to dry ingredients and combine until the dough is just moistened.  Add egg and beat until the mixture is smooth.  Add in more flour as necessary to create a soft dough. 

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead about 5-7 minutes until the dough is smooth and eliastic.  Cover and let rest 10 minutes.  Divice the dough into thirds.  Shape each into a 15 inch rope.  Place ropes on a greased baking sheet and braid.  Pinch the ends to seal and tuck under.  Cover and let it rise until doubled, about 25 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Brush the bread with melted butter and bake the bread for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool completely before serving.

Do I even need to tell you that I cut off a hunk almost as soon as the pictures were snapped?  Also, Taste of Home Kitchen suggests you brush the bread with butter after baking.  I like to do it prior to baking which really helps get a nice golden brown.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, December 12, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Rosemary Lemon Roasted Chicken and Potatoes

For the past 2 weeks I've had two homes.  The home in New York which I am trying to move into, and my home in Boston which I am trying to move out of.  Knowing that, before I leave for the week, I try to plan with help from my fridge, what I can eat when I come back.  Like I did in late August, I am racing against the clock.  Moving four hours away means I really can't take my fridge contents with me, like John and I did during our last move.  So, its up to me to be creative and pick through the miscellaneous items to come up with tasty meals. 

When I can find another blog that has come up with a creative, tasty meal using the ingredients I have on hand already, it's a big bonus.  That's why I was so excited when I saw Pass the Sushi's Skillet Rosemary Chicken.  I am in love with this blog and its beautiful pictures; anytime they make something, I usually want to eat it.  But this was the first time I had actually tried out the recipe.  And I was so happy it turned out deliciously!

This is a perfect, one-pot meal for winter.   No matter when I am cooking, one-pot meals are my favorite.  Is there really anything better than It isn't very heavy but it is very filling.  Plus, you can substitute the rosemary (have you noticed I've had a thing for rosemary lately?) for other herbs as you see fit (depending on the contents of your fridge, perhaps).  And finding meals that help me get rid of excess food?  Well, that is just the bonus.  Because believe me, you don't even want to see my pantry boxes.  Or my spice box for that matter.   Is it sad that my kitchen boxes outnumber the rest of the household boxes?  I'm not sure.  What that does mean though is that I probably need to go shopping for clothes.
Rosemary Lemon Roasted Chicken and Potatoes (adapted from here)
Serves:  4
1/2 pound red potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 lemons
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 pound chicken breasts, diced

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Scrub and dice the potatoes.  Place them in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until tender, about 10 minutes; drain and set aside.  Pile the rosemary leaves, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt and the red pepper flakes on a cutting board, then mince and mash into a paste using a large knife (or a mortar and pestle).   Transfer the paste to a bowl.   Juice and zest one lemon.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil, mixing well. Add the chicken, turning to coat.  Place in a large casserole dish.  Add potatoes and drizzle with lemon juice.  Add the squeezed lemon halves to the dish.  Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until chicken is cooked through. 

Hopefully one day soon I will be back to having just one home.  But for now, one-pot meals like these are going to be a staple until I can consolidate my life!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, December 9, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without cookies, am I right?  And I just wouldn’t be me, if I didn’t have something sweet to end my time in Boston.  That’s right, after much deliberation, literally dozens of interviews, and yet another apartment to pack up; it is my last week in this beautiful town.

I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a lot of anxiety.  There is more anxiety than I could have ever thought was possible.  And when I get anxious, I want something sweet.  What can I say?  I have a major sweet tooth.  And I knew if I made my beloved Chocolate Chip Cookies, well, I’d have eaten a few dozen of them (not something my body needs right before Christmas gluttony). 

But I’m not the only one dealing with the anxiety.  John gets a giant gold star for the way he has handled his girlfriend moving six hours away.  In fact, maybe a few gold stars because he has had to pick up a lot of slack (like helping me move and box my stuff…AGAIN), and listening to me stress, which I think would be hard on anyone.  I got pretty lucky that we found each other.  John loves peanut butter cookies (cookies that incidentally I really dislike, which in turn I never make for him).  If there was anytime to make a treat, it was this week.  So, I made 12 Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for myself, and the rest became these Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies for my beloved boyfriend. 

Peanut Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from here)Serves:  12-14 (36-48 cookies)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Beat together the butter and brown sugar in a bowl.  Beat in the egg and vanilla, until smooth.  Add the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Beat until just combined.  Using a wooden spoon, add in the peanut butter and oats.  Then, stir in the chocolate (by this point the batter was very thick and so I just used my – CLEAN – hands).  Chill the dough for about 30 minutes.  Then, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Roll tiny balls of the dough and place onto a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Bake them for about 10 minutes, when the bottoms are golden brown.  Keep them on the hot cookie sheet another 3-5 minutes out of the oven, and then remove to a cooling rack. 

The next time you need a quick Christmas cookie to bring to (yet another) holiday party or a sweet treat to get you through a tough week, these are it!

Until the next time my oven is on…
Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Broccoli Cheddar Soup

I am loving soup this season, aren't I?  Honestly, these are my final days in Boston and amid the frenzy of packing, moving, and saying my good-byes, a warm pot of soup is like a big hug.  That is probably one of the reasons I have been so anxious to make them over the past few weeks. 

Broccoli Cheddar soup has long been one of Mom's guilty pleasures.  She loves it but is very calorie-conscious.  Trying the soup with John first, I figured if it came out really good, I could replicate it when I move back home over the next few weeks.  Mom and Dad frequently eat low-cal, easy prep meals.  But the future of this blog, and my own sanity rest on the creative things I will be able to make them in the coming weeks.  I mean, really, who wants to read about fat-free Italian Dressing soaked chicken three times a week?

Also who really wants to eat it three times a week?  Well, I remarked that to sister M over Thanksgiving and she got so offended!  "But that's one of my favorite meals", she sighed.  Yes, we know.  She is picky.  Anyway, this soup came from the Food Network Magazine.  It also said it would only serve four people.  It served closer to 6-8 for me and John, and I had played with the ingredients a little.  I reduced the potatoes that the recipe called for by half and still thought it was plenty (it gave a very thick, delicious soup).  It also is made in under 40 minutes.  I chopped (as usual) everything the day before.  Put them in their own little baggies which made dinner go by much faster.  Another hint:  the smaller you chop the potatoes in the beginning, the faster this will go!
Broccoli Cheddar Soup (adapted from Food Network Magazine)
Serves:  6-8
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
1-15 ounce can of low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups fat-free half-and-half
1/2 pound russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon
3 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups chopped broccoli florets
1 1/3 cups sharp cheddar cheese

Add olive oil to a large pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook, stirring until softened (about 5 minutes).  Add chicken broth, half-and-half, potatoes, bay leaves, 2 cups water, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 10 minutes).  When the potatoes are fork-tender, remove the bay leaves.  Puree the soup with an immersion blender until smooth.  Return the soup to the pot and let it come to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Stir in the broccoli and cook an additional 5 minutes.  Add the cheese slowly, stirring until it is fully melted.  Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

I froze the leftovers and we ate the soup throughout the next week; we liked it just as much as leftovers as we did freshly made!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, December 5, 2011

Field Trip: San Diego

For K&E's "West Coast Engagement Party", a small contingency of the D'Ambrosio family made their way to San Diego.  I was thrilled to be one of them but I really did miss John.  We're a great team when we're It was a whirlwind trip in many ways.  We were there for less than 2 full days, and a good amount of the time was spent (obviously) with K&E and E's family.

When we first booked the tickets to go out there, I hounded my mom about two things.  I wanted to go to the San Diego Zoo, and I wanted to go somewhere yummy to eat.  Really it looked like we didn't have time to do either of those.  I was bummed but I knew that the most important thing we were going to do in California was attend an engagement party for two people I love.  Imagine my surprise when all my dreams came true (and we weren't even in Disney!). 

We took a late flight out of NY so by the time we got into San Diego it was 11 p.m. by their clock but 2 a.m. by ours.  Cranky people all around.  Even more cranky when our rental car shuttle took 20 minutes to arrive.  And still, more cranky when the shuttle man insisted that we all couldn't fit on the bus, despite open seats.  He finally relented and so we were off in our rental car cruising to E's hometown.  After dropping K&E at the family homestead, we traveled a short distance to the hotel.  My body couldn't decide if it was more hungry or sleepy so I had a little snack and drifted off. 

We started off the morning at a cozy little continental breakfast and then a drive by the Pacific Ocean.  It wasn't that nice out so we decided not to hang out by the beach.  Then, my whining, I mean, asking, began.  Can't we go to the zoo?  Instead, we turned to the GPS to decide where to go.  We drove up to the botanical gardens, thinking that would be a cheap way to spend the morning.  Twelve dollars a person!!!!  I don't think so.  We kept driving.  Can we PLEASE go to the zoo, I asked.  The adults in the car relented and took the 10-year old in me to the zoo.  Although it was expensive, it was COMPLETELY worth it.
It was the nicest way to spend a day.  We saw pandas eating and playing, a huge variety of animals I had never even heard of before, and elephants.  But everyone's favorite animals of the day were the polar bears who were so playful!  This is Mom, Awa, and I with the big polar bear!
Eventually, though, we got hungry.  And that is when John came in.  Yes, even 3,000 miles away John still comes in handy when I need him!  He was happy to look up a few places that Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives (Dad's favorite show) had gone.  John suggested Tioli's Crazee Burger for its proximity to the zoo but also because he knows how much I LOVE burgers!  I had the Santorini Burger which was 1/2 lamb and 1/2 beef.  It was delicious and I was thrilled when we caught a DDD episode to see that Guy Fieri had also featured that burger on the show!
Awa had the Grilled Pastrami.  I don't think I've ever seen a happier Awa!  In fact, although she wasn't so sure when we first walked into the place, it was probably one of the most memorable parts of the trip!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, December 2, 2011

Fancy Pants App: Pretzel Bites with Spicy Cheese Dip

Have any of you ever been to the Rockbottom Brewery?  It's a chain that has a bunch of restaurants, one of which is located downtown.  While they are not the type of place John and I like to go for dinner (we prefer the more local places), I do love stopping here for appetizers and drinks.  Well, drinks plural but really only one appetizer.  Their huge ballpark pretzels and spicy cheese sauce.  YUM.  When I saw these pretzels at Cozy Kitchen's blog, I couldn't help but bookmark them (despite the fact she is obviously anti-fantasy football).  I thought it would be fun to make pretzel bites for easy dipping.

And then I had to decide on a dip.  One slow day at work, I was reminiscing about my love of the spicy cheese sauce at Rockbottom Brewery.  So I decided to search for it online, just in case someone else was as obsessed as I am.  And I found it!!!!  It's a great copycat recipe which I decided to play around with because, let's be honest, with little pretzel bites, who wants to have spinach and tomatoes interfering with their cheese? 

Not me!  We liked these so much the first time we made them that I made them again when I was in charge of Thanksgiving appetizers.  Because Dad works in retail, he usually has to work at least a few hours on Thanksgiving day.  Knowing that, we eat Thanksgiving dinner/lunch in the afternoon and then eat an appetizer/tapas "snack" around 7 when he gets home from work.  These were perfect because really, it doesn't take a lot of ingredients, just the hour of rising time. 

Pretzel Bites with Spicy Cheese Dip (adapted from here and here)
Serves:  4-6 (about 4 dozen pretzel bites)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for bowl
5 cups water
1/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 cup fat-free half and half
3/4 cup milk
4 cups grated jack cheese

Combine warm water, sugar, and yeast.  Let sit 5-10 minutes until the mixture begins to foam.  Add flour and melted butter and knead by hand for 8-12 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.  Oil a large bowl and add the dough to the bowl, turning until all sides are well-oiled.  Top with plastic wrap and leave to let rise about an hour (until doubled).  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Roll the pretzel dough into 2 ropes.  Cut into small two-inch cylinders.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, heat water and baking soda to a rolling boil.  Then, drop the pretzel dough in for about 30 seconds per side.  Place onto greased cookie sheets.  Brush with egg yolk, and top with salt.  Bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until browned.  Let cool so they can be handled easily.

For the sauce, bring half and half and milk to a boil.  Slowly add cheese until it is fully melted and smooth.  Pour into a small ramekin for dipping.

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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