Spicy Margarita, Bread, and Something for the Dogs

This past weekend was pretty low key – and one of the first weekends that Mister and I both had busy Saturdays planned separately.  While Mister went skiing with my Dad, I met a few women for brunch in Manhattan.

It is nice being walking distance to a Metro North station in Westchester – within 35-40 ish minutes I can go from my front door to Grand Central. Thankfully, the women I met up with were kind enough to choose a place just a few blocks from Grand Central to make brunch even easier.

Salvation Taco was the perfect spot for a girl’s brunch ; there was a steady stream of spicy margaritas and sangria while we were able to lounge around a coffee table on couches.   Thankfully one of us took command and ordered food for the table, which meant we were all able to share tacos, quesadillas, and wings. Everything had great flavor, and I personally loved the extra salty chips that came with an order of guacamole.

By Sunday morning, we were both excited for a lazy couch day – especially Mister after a very early and long day of skiing. We had mini bagels with the works [i.e. smoked salmon, tomato slices, and red onion] and coffee while on the couch. 010.JPG

While waiting for the coffee to brew, I spied the bread cookbook my Mom  had gifted me last week and thought the rainy Sunday was a great time to give something a try.

Bread Illustrated   is an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook – which means I was in love with it before even cracking the binding. For all beginners, scientists, curious cooks, or experimenters – try America’s Test Kitchen. What I love is they explain the why and the how to every single thing. For example, with my favorite meatloaf recipe of their’s – they showed the results from baking it in a glass loaf pan, a metal loaf pan, and free form on a sheetpan. They explain the merits of each situation, and ultimately recommend free form on a sheetpan for the ability to crisp up all the edges. I trust their recipes because they work, and they explain why.

Bread and rice seem to be my two nemesis in the kitchen. I can’t cook rice, and I struggle with bread.

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While it didn’t rise as much as I would’ve liked, the Whole Wheat variation on the American Sandwich Bread was perfection. The taste, texture, and even crust was really impressive. Thanks to the cookbook, I think I was able to pinpoint why the rise wasn’t ideal [water wasn’t warm enough for the yeast in the first rise, and it might’ve been too cold/drafty in my kitchen for the second rise].

I can confidently say, however, that I used said bread for my lunchtime sandwich at work today.  Feels pretty good to say, hey look I made this! [I didn’t actually do that, because I’m pretty sure that would just be strange. But like if someone asked…]

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While all this baking was going on , I felt bad for the dogs. Yes I’m a crazy dog mom, but we keep the dog treats on the counter where I was baking and they kept running in exactingly.  Since I had the oven going, and we weren’t doing anything other than laundry and watching tv most of the day, I decided to try a batch of dog biscuits as well.

I happened to have a set of dog related cookie cutters we had received as a wedding gift – so I was able to come up with a pretty sizeable batch of dog bone shaped treats.  I purposely under baked them by a few minutes, to keep them soft per my dogs’ preference.  These were a HUGE hit – so much so that I’m considering making them as regularly as I can.

 

Meal Prep

It was a deep rut.

Christmas, New Years, Snow Storm. Flannel pajamas, baggy sweaters, cheese, wine. Christmas cookies, french toast, more cheese.

How to break the deliciously cozy cycle when New York has been colder than Alaska lately?

ACV.

Apple cider vinegar. Its a little routine that I can never stick with too consistently (despite my best efforts), but its a great way to jump start a little nutrition and pry yourself away from caramels and Camembert.

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8 oz of cold water, squeeze half a lemon, 1 – 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar.

Drink this before you start breakfast, while you’re getting ready in the morning. Before coffee, before brushed teeth, before the stretchy pants get too comfortable.

It may be psychological, total placebo affect – but for me personally, it curbs my sweet tooth and allows me to hit the reset button my nutritional intake.

While I sipped my ACV, I cooked a big batch of food for the coming week to allow myself to really trudge through the winter apocalypse with some vitamins and hopefully a few less pounds in the stomach area.

New Year New Tradition

In my last post I noted that Mister and I eat the same dinner every year on New Years Eve. We didn’t really have a tradition for New Years Day – which seems to be the day everyone universally has off (except for my Mom this year, sorry Mom!).

With the long weekend of no plans, I knew I had some time to put together a decent brunch and liked the idea of starting a new tradition that’s all our own.  We invited my sister and her husband, and Mister’s brother and his wife – which is just about the top number of people that can fit in our kitchen. Did I mention that our house is tiny?

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Here’s everything just before we started, I’m incredibly proud of how well everything turned out. My list-making abilities paid off – as did the discovery that my magnetic notepad that I normally stick to the fridge can be stuck to the metal backsplash between our stove and the vent.

The complete menu:

Growing up Jewish, I have it ingrained in me that sweet foods should be eaten around the new year based on the idea that sweet foods are eaten on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.

The night before I started the baked french toast, and the pea salad. I don’t want to give away all the family secrets, but my Aunt Resa’s pea salad is one of my favorite things to eat on holidays. This was my first time attempting it, and it was the perfect acidic counter balance to all the sweet.

I’ll give you the recipe, but promise to give Aunt Resa the credit please.

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Mix one bag of frozen peas with one can of drained chickpeas.  Pour an entire bottle of italian dressing on top.  Let sit overnight, drain well before serving and toss with redskin spanish peanuts.  Enjoy! Its crunchy, tart, a little sweet from the peas. We’ve eaten the leftovers as a snack or even a light lunch.

While everyone was arriving I made sure we had a cheese plate out, nothing fancy, but an opportunity to use the monogram marble cheeseboard we received as a wedding gift.  Aren’t weddings fun?

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And of course, what would a New Years Day brunch be without a champagne bar?

 

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The Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail started a conversation about how I am a sucker for all things seasonal. If you put up a sign that says “Limited Edition” I will most likely buy it, for no other reason other than it is seasonal and/or limited. This is how I ended up with Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.  I don’t even eat regular cheerios. And yes, they were as bad as you would think.

This Winter Wassail though – incredible stuff.

Even if you’re not a songbird, Trader Joe’s Winter Wassail is so festive, you may find yourself spontaneously bursting into carols of the season with every sip. Our Winter Wassail was modeled after the spiced beverage enjoyed during 12th century Christmas celebrations. Years later, we’re still impressed by the drink’s ability to turn humbug feelings into holiday spirit. A sweetened blend of black currant, apple, and lemon juices produce a punchy punch. The cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, and orange peel punches it up even further. Enjoyed hot or cold, the flavor and aroma will instantly kindle feelings of holiday cheer. It’s a merry mixer with red wine, simmered on the stovetop and served steaming. Winter Wassail will be with us through the holidays. If merriment is your manifesto, you’ve met your match. Each 64 fluid ounce bottle is $3.99, until the last carol is sung (or we run out).

The ingredients are pretty straightforward:

INGREDIENTS: WATER, CANE SUGAR, APPLE JUICE CONCENTRATE, BLACKCURRANT JUICE CONCENTRATE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR, SPICES (CINNAMON, CLOVES, NUTMEG, CARDAMOM, GINGER), LEMON JUICE CONCENTRATE, ORANGE PEEL.

Weirdly enough, that list turned a few people off – whom were pleasantly surprised by the actual juice once trying. Its like a holiday spiced cranberry juice.  More sweet and spiced than tart.

I love those champagne coup glasses more than anything. How can you not feel incredibly fancy while drinking from them? Its as if they require me to throw on some kitten heels while I slice up some snacks.

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Cheers to new drinks, to new family, to new traditions. Happy New Year!

Restaurant and a Recipe

Most work days are spent visiting job sites or doing paperwork from the office.  Yesterday, I was lucky enough to visit a particularly stunning job site; The Mayflower Grace Hotel in Washington, CT.

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About two hours or so from NYC, this hotel seems like it would be a great oasis from anyone’s hectic life.  While I was there for work, the general manager was gracious enough to offer me a comped lunch.  I’m sure she had some ulterior motives of lowering my quote, but I’ve never been one to say no to a free lunch (especially such a fancy free lunch).

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I propped my paperwork all over the bar of The Taproom, and was treated to a really lovely lunch. The atmosphere of the entire hotel property is very classic, New England elegance; above and beyond historic charm.  This may look like a simple salad, but it had such a level of savoriness I’ve never experienced in a light salad.

Upon the General Manager’s recommendation, I chose The Mayflower Bibb salad, “Maytag Blue cheese, crispy shallots, tomato truffle vinaigrette.”  Perfection.  (Sidenote: I did not pay for this meal, but left a hefty tip.  I’ll admit I’m young and not familiar with the professional prototypical here; what would you recommend?)

After work, I went straight to the kitchen to whip up a dessert to bring to the first night of Passover at my Aunt’s house.  Through the King Arthur Flour website, I found what looked like the perfect recipe to try out, Almond Cloud Cookies.  For those of you whom celebrate Passover, I’m sure you can agree there are only so many times you can make or eat macaroons or chocolate covered matzo.

The recipe is available through that link above, so I won’t go into too much detail.  I did make 1.5 of the recipe, because it called for 10 oz of almond paste and I could only find it in 7 oz packages.  I figured two packages equaling 14 oz was close to 15 oz, or 1 and a half times what the recipe was calling for, so I just multiplied the other ingredients accordingly.

Sugar and almond paste go in the stand mixer to get crumbly.

Whisk egg whites until frothy and add to the crumbly stuff in the mixer.  025.JPGAdd chocolate chips and almond extract. [the recipe calls for bitter almond oil….I’m not a huge baker so I didn’t want to go nuts looking for something so specific]

027.JPGThis is where things got really exciting for me.

I was doing all of this baking in my Mom’s kitchen; which meant I was using all of her gadgets etc.  I have never actually owned one of these cookie scoopers, but there was one in Mom’s drawer!  I felt very fancy following the recipe pictures so perfectly that I had to take a picture.  Take joy in the little things people.

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Scoop out cookie dough onto baking sheets.  030.JPG

Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Press three fingers into each to sort of mash them down. Then bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

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Oh man.  I cannot express how wonderful these are; imagine a really good chewy chocolate chip cookie that has a deep almond flavor that hugs your tastebuds.  These are cookies I would eat even when its not Passover, the fact that they are okay for the holiday is just a bonus.  Enjoy!

Some Bowls.

002Bowls of minestrone- veggie soup for lunch.

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087.JPGAn incredibly awful looking protein mug cake with peanut butter. (mix chocolate protein powder, baking powder, egg whites, cocoa powder, vanilla etc. in a mug.  microwave until cooked.  top with peanut butter and greedily stare at real cake)

 

Next week I’ll probably prep some burrito bowls to be eaten throughout the week. I still haven’t quite figured out what a smoothie bowl is, but they sounds pretty trendy.  For some reason when it gets colder I just want to dig into a big bowl of hot food; it doesn’t have to be nutritious, or particularly tasty.  Just hot and plentiful.

That’s not a great plan when Mister and I have vacation planned in a few weeks, and this belly needs to be seen on the beach.  Yikes.

What’s in your bowl?

 

Easy as Pie

I’ve made two apple pies in the span of one week.

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Above was made with a hannaford brand refrigerate pie crust, some old mac’s and a handful of cortlands.

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The second was made with apples my sister picked, and an Immaculate brand refrigerated pie crust.

The first pie, the apples were diced.  The second, sliced.

I think I like either a dice or a very thin slice for apple pies.  I’m not a huge fan of the still crunchy, under cooked large apple slices that get caught in the pie when the slice isn’t super thin.

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But I certainly appreciate the benefit of that egg wash.  Look at the beautiful golden flaky goodness going on there.  Egg wash, cinnamon and sugar.

I love that apples are so easy and so versatile.  Chop some for oatmeal, eat one plain as a snack, cover some with flour, sugar, extra butter, and cinnamon and call it a crisp.

Does anyone have a go to pie recipe, or do you just wing it like me? I usually just cut apples, throw them in a bowl with brown sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour and mix with my hands.  I’ve made pie crust from scratch but I’ve found its not really that worth the effort.

Bedtime Story

Some people read novels, magazines. E-readers.

I read cookbooks. And the Penzeys Spices catalogue.

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Cover to cover. With a pen to make notes.
I imagine what I could cook with each spice so perfectly described.

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My mouth waters at the taste of each written word. I swear even the catalog smells good.

When the store opened in Crossgates Mall, I felt like I was inhaling possibility. Potential casseroles, platters, creations.

With the recent packing in anticipation of moving, I tossed most spices from my pantry. I’m starting to appreciate the value of keeping fresher spices on hand. But Mister doesn’t necessarily think there is validity to this theory.

Am I imagining that spices have a shelf life, or is there really more flavor in the fresh jar of Apple Pie Spice?

Baked For Me

I had a perfect experience with local bakery, Bake For You.
Between Mister and I, we had two family holidays, a move, a lot of driving, and work on the schedule.

I feel weird arriving at anyone’s house empty handed, so I considered my local options. Due to the move, cooking or baking wasn’t going to happen. My pans are in boxes and my poor Kitchenaid stand mixer is lovingly nested in a tote bag.

After a quick email to Linda at Bake For You, I had an order placed, scheduled for two different pick up times for three different recipients. Seriously, she is great. She kept the Christmas wrapping off my Chanukkah cookie box and promised plenty of red and green on the second pick up.

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For $27.50, I walked away from the bakery with a hefty box of cookies, macaroons, and brownies.

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There was an assorted 2 dozen pieces of sweet, gooey goodness. Just enough chocolate, sugar, crunch, yum.

The ordering process was so easy and convenient, the resulting product was exactly what I wanted. A varied assortment of fresh, classically creative dessert. Linda went out of her way to accommodate my two holiday requests, and an extra order off the menu. The box was ready exactly when I requested and I was able to walk in on my way out of town.

I’m drooling in anticipation of picking up my next order, and will definitely grab something to eat in the car next time.

Hype

Trader Joes Cookie Butter.
People love that stuff, like really love it. I’m a fan of Fall and Holiday season flavors; I love all the pumpkin, gingerbread, maple conceptions that appear. So it wasn’t difficult for a Trader Joes employee to talk me into a jar of Cookie Butter.

That was a year ago and I finally finished that stupid jar this morning. I know Trader Joes has a great return policy, but I just kept thinking I just hadn’t figured out what to do with the stuff yet. I put it on toast, pancakes, with jelly, etc.

This stuff is thick. With an almost gritty texture that always reminds me of lard.

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Several types of sugar and margarine seem to be the basis for this off conception. While its marketed similar to peanut butter, it should really be sold as more of an actual butter. Except it doesn’t melt.

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This morning I finally used up the last of the stupid jar by making my morning oatmeal in it. I microwaved the oats with almond milk right on the jar. The cookie butter didn’t even mix with the oatmeal after a stir. But it’s settling nicely in every artery and pore of my body. I feel lethargic and greasy, from a mere two-ish tablespoons of this awful stuff. But I’m a stubborn, determined person and felt some sick satisfaction in finishing off the jar that has been lingering for way too long.

Roadtrip and Repeats

On Sunday, Mister and I went on a mini road trip to just north of Lake George.  We had booked an hour trail ride at the Circle B Ranch, and were luckily blessed with the most amazing end of summer weather for the day.  It was perfectly warm and breezy as we wandered through the woods on horseback, guided by Joe and his son, Joey.

All that sitting around and nature-enjoying made us hungry.  So when we drove past Oscar’s Adirondack Smoke House afterwards, we had to stop for a quick bite.

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Seriously drool worthy. We split a cheddar cheese stuffed Bratwurst, which I liberally topped with some of their beer mustard and extra sauerkraut. Thankfully Mister appreciates sauerkraut too. The Brat had a perfect snap to the casing, making it a hearty bite versus a mushy chew.

We reluctantly got back in the car, sad that we were far from home with an uncertain afternoon which made us reluctant to load up on anything perishable from the store. We headed towards Lake George and walked around for just a bit.

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I was EXTREMELY disappointed by what was available for a quick bite; everything was closed, overpriced, or just unappealing (like an ice cream shop right on the water that reeked of bleach, or the dreary generic upstate pizza that was nearly $10 for two slices. I settled on two scoops of fancy ice cream to curb my crankiness until we got home. I’m not sure I see the appeal to Lake George? Did we miss some gem?

Some things are more reliably good. Like the baked eggs I’ve been making all week. I’m on my third…maybe fourth batch in just over a week. The recipe started as a crust-less quiche courtesy of my friend Erika. Out of laziness, and forgetfulness, I altered the recipe a bit based on what I remembered to buy at the store, and what had to get used up from the fridge. The basic is a scoop of cottage cheese, a cup or so of egg whites, and three-six eggs depending on how much you want to make. This gets whisked together and put in a baking dish that has already been coated with baking spray. I’ve played around with fillings, the most popular so far being baby spinach, onions, peppers, and honey turkey. My most successful tactic seems to be layering half the egg mixture, then filling, then the rest of the egg, all topped with a generous coating of shredded cheese.
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Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until a toothpick/knife/cake tester comes out clean. Its light and fluffy, while being hearty enough to power through morning. I’ve paired it with toast, a muffin, or some fruit and yogurt on the side. Hot or cold, its a consistently delicious dish.