Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Prep Praises: Talenti Gelato

Oprah has her favorite things, and I have mine. Her viewing audience may be a tiny bit larger than my reading audience, but that's not going to stop me from sharing some brands and products that I think are brag-worthy. :)

Today, I'm bragging about one of my {many} food weaknesses: Gelato. I would no sooner choose a favorite family member over another than a favorite gelato, I just love the stuff that much. But in my opinion, this particular one is a stand out and deserves every bit of favoritism.

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My husband and I both like our ice cream and gelato exactly the same way: Vanilla. Plain. Some might even say boring. But my taste buds are purists when it comes to treats of the frozen variety. {My mother and sisters are horrified at this fact. They're from the "chunky, bits & pieces laden ice cream" school of thought. There's always a black sheep in the family...}

Anyone can make something taste good when it's loaded with chocolate chips, and cookie chunks, and ribbons of caramel. The true test is to strip it down to the basics, and then see if it's still delicious. And this Tahitian Vanilla Bean gelato is. Oh, how it is.

As I was standing in my kitchen eating spoonfuls of this last night {Stop it. I feel your judgemental eyes.}, I started assessing exactly what is so fabulous about this gelato. It is, after all, just Vanilla. How complicated can it be to get that right?

For one, the texture is SO smooth. I hate it when food people start talking about how something is so "silky" or "velvety", but there's just no other way to describe it. It's some rich stuff. Another difference is the vanilla flavor. It actually tastes like real vanilla. Like, with little bean flecks and all. It might have something to do with the fact that they import their vanilla beans from Papua, New Guinea, which apparently has the highest quality beans available. I don't know if that's true, but my tastebuds agree.

Whatever my friends over at Talenti do {No, I don't actually know these people. But anyone who makes something this tasty is definitely my friend.}, I hope they keep doing it. They make one yummy product. Run, don't walk, to your nearest store and check out their flavors. Their Caribbean Coconut is another fantastic option. Not that I've had every flavor or anything... ;)

*As a complete side note: Their containers make fantastic storage containers for leftovers. How eco-friendly. :)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter Treats on the "Cheep"

My husband's plan to eat a little healthier this week must've really had an effect on my energy levels, because here I am with yet another post for the week. ;) {A personal record, I think!}

Who wouldn't be excited, though, by all the fun Easter preparations going on? In the food blogging world, I've seen a multitude of charming Easter projects, recipes, and treats. Check out some of my faves:


Coconut Bunny Cake. :)
Source: Baked Bree


Easter Chick Cupcakes!
Source: The Pastry Affair

HOMEMADE PEEPS!!!!!!!
Source: Twig & Thistle

If that doesn't inspire, then I don't know what will!

For me, it doesn't take much to spark the desire to get in the kitchen and crank out some new confections. But the truth is, trying out all these cute little projects can really impact the pocketbook if you're not careful. So, I set out this week to come up with cost effective Easter treats to share with family & friends.

I had some strict criteria for my search: They needed to be inexpensive, cute, and appeal to both young & old. After thinking it over, there was one well-loved snack that fit the bill perfectly: Rice Krispie Treats!



When I saw a version of these on The Novice Chef a few weeks ago, I knew it wouldn't be long before I made a batch of my own. With a little creativity, some embellishments, and some Easter chick cookie cutters {ok, it's actually a rubber ducky cookie cutter, but it doesn't hurt to use your imagination.}, these quickly became the perfect answer to my penny saving project. I handed them out to my co-workers, my students, and even the people at my husband's office, and everyone loved them! Mission accomplished. :)

Rice Krispie Treat Pops: Easter Edition
Adapted from Kellog's Rice Krispie Treats, and inspired by Jessica's post from The Novice Chef

You'll Need:
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
  • - OR -
  • 4 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 6 cups Rice Krispies® or other puffed rice cereal
  • 1 package Candy Quick or other candy coating
  • Sprinkles, food coloring, lollipop sticks
Directions:

1. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.

2. Add rice cereal. Stir until well coated.

3. Using buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool.


4. Use desired cookie cutters to cut out shapes.

5. Heat candy coating 30 seconds at a time, until completely melted. (I only used 1/2 the package each time just to be safe.) If using food coloring, stir in a small amount until desired tint is reached.

6. Dip or spread coating onto cut outs, and embellish with sprinkles, etc., while still wet.

7. Wrap up in pretty packaging, and make someone smile! :)

Happy Easter, everyone!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

All Wrapped Up

Let's face it: Sometimes a cookie is just a cookie. But a cookie packaged in something adorable? That's what makes the recipient go, "Awwwwww!".

And that's exactly what I did when I stumbled upon Shop Sweet Lulu. {Even the name is pretty cute.} Um, I'm a little bit in love. Ok. A lot a bit.

We are taught from a young age that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. That beauty is only skin deep. That it's what's on the inside that counts. Well, I'm here today to tell you that all that went out the window when I saw what Sweet Lulu had to offer.


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Love at first sight!

Whatever you decide to put in these little packages {and believe me, I'm already thinking of making a few batches of whatever just so I'll have reasons to buy these}, you can be sure that they'll be pretty to look at. :) 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fit for "Royal Tea"

If you have turned on the TV at all within the past few months, you may have noticed the tiniest bit of worldwide commotion about the Royal Wedding. I am sure that you are just as riveted as I am to find out who Katherine will choose to design her gown, what type of hats the dignitaries will wear, and :::GASP::: if Kate will make it down the aisle of the Abbey without tripping.

Ok, I'm being a little sarcastic. ;) But seriously, people are just fascinated with this whole production.

I'm quite sure that the wedding will be lovely {you can do a lot on a royal budget!}. When I think back to planning my own wedding, I can't help but remember all the stress that came along with it! Girls have a lot to think about when it comes to wedding planning. What to wear, who to invite, colors, location, flowers... and making sure that during all that stress, you are staying fit enough to squeeze into the dress you will have 243,346,984,723 pictures taken in. No pressure, girls!

These Lemon Thins I discovered on The Pastry Affair a few days ago seemed to fit perfectly into the Royal Wedding theme. They're dainty with a bright citrus flavor and fit right into a Spring event. They could be considered "tea cookies" with their mild sweetness and, duh, who drinks more tea than the British. And best of all... they're a "light" recipe, so you can indulge in quite a few during a stress eating binge and still fit into your Easter dress {or wedding gown, as the case may be for dear Kate!}.

This recipe calls for run-of-the-mill lemon, but I used a Meyer lemon because I happened to have one. {Incidentally, have you ever had a Meyer lemon? It's what I imagine would come about if a lemon and a tangerine had a baby. Very interesting.}

At any rate, they are a tasty little treat. Now, go make a batch and save some to snack on while you watch Kate & Will tie the knot. {Who are you kidding, you know you'll watch!}

Lemon Thins
Adapted from The Eating Well Dessert Cookbook, and borrowed from Kristin at The Pastry Affair



1/2 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest & juice of 1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon because I had one)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.In a medium mixing bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the egg white and vanilla until smooth. Beat in the lemon zest and lemon juice.

2. Fold in the flour, cornstarch, and baking powder.

3. Take a teaspoonful of dough and roll it into a ball with your hands. Place on a baking sheet and flatten with the bottom of a glass. Repeat. Sprinkle extra sugar on top, if desired.

4. Bake for 8-12 minutes, or until the edges barely begin to brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just Another Meatless Monday

Last weekend when we went grocery shopping I noticed a theme in my husband's contributions to our shopping cart - veggies. Lots and lots of veggies. Brussels sprouts, zucchini, kale, stringbeans, corn, carrots and even a big package of wheatgrass. {Ok, maybe wheatgrass isn't a veggie... but it's a plant and it's green. Close enough.}

We are no strangers to veggies here. In fact, it's been noted by various Publix cashiers that we are very healthy eaters. :) But every once in a while Steve will turn it up a notch for a week or two, and I, by association, will be forced to go along for the ride. It does, however, take a little more thinking on my part to come up with creative meals despite all the restrictions. (i.e. No wheat, dairy, meat or anything else that is remotely delicious unhealthy.)

Luckily, I just so happened to receive a recipe from Real Simple with a tasty looking recipe for Pappardelle with Swiss Chard, Onion, and Goat Cheese. Too bad that 2 of the 4 main ingredients the recipe called for were part of the "food to avoid" list for this week...

But then, in a flash of pure genius {at least it felt pretty genius at the end of a looong day}, I knew exactly how to solve my dilemma: Zucchini "Pasta"! I had seen this done before in a few different recipes but hadn't ever tried it, so I pulled out my trusty Titan Peeler Julienne Tool and started peeling away.

I have to tell you, I was quite impressed with the results! It was a nice change to our normal Quinoa Pasta routine and Steve & I both liked the dish, which is always a plus since I sometimes struggle with forcing myself to eat certain veggies that I do not find enjoyable {unlike my husband, AKA "The Man Who Will Happily Eat Cardboard Flavored Food for Health Purposes}. ;)

I ended up making it without the goat cheese, set Steve's plate aside, then added a little goat cheese to mine for some extra zing & creaminess. Delish.

The best part about this type of recipe is that you could probably toss in any veggies, herbs, or additional ingredients you like and it would be just as good, maybe even better. Give it a try!

Zucchini "Pasta" with Kale, Onion, and Goat Cheese
Adapted from Real Simple.com

The goat cheese mountain is optional. ;)

You'll Need:

2 medium zucchini, julienned or cut into thin ribbons using a mandolin
1 small bunch of kale, stems removed (I used about 1 1/2 cups)
1/2 an onion (white or red)
4 ounces goat cheese
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste

1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the kale, sprinkle mixture with salt and cook, tossing frequently, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes more or until kale begins to wilt a bit.

2. Add zucchini ribbons to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until tender and "pasta"ish.

3. Add goat cheese to mixture and toss until cheese begins to melt and coats zucchini. If it is too thick, add a few tablespoons of water to help create a sauce.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Cookie Chic

If I had little ones, they would most definitely get these fashionable cookies as a treat....

Hello, my name is Dianna and I'm addicted to adorable packaging.

So stinkin' cute! 

That's all for now. ;)

Friday, April 8, 2011

When Life Hands You Lemons...

Make Buttermilk Lemon Poundcake, obviously. ;)

This has been a busy week in our little household. For starters, I began a new job this week and have had far less time {and energy} than usual to spend in the kitchen. So, when I tell you that today's recipe comes together quickly and easily, I'm not joshin'.

I whipped up this poundcake as I was getting ready for work, and while it took a smidge longer to bake than indicated in the recipe, it still was pretty easy and low maintenance. Truthfully, I wasn't initially thrilled with the look of it in the pan {mine didn't get that domed look of most loaf pan recipes}, but as you can see, it cuts into pretty slices with a tasty sugary crust.


Look at me gettin' fancy with a lemon wheel. ;)
 With Springtime's arrival, I've been in a very bright and citrusy mood {culinarily, anyway} and this poundcake most definitely reflects that. This particular recipe is subtly sweet. It has directions for a Lemon Syrup to drizzle or brush on top, but I found that it was just as perfect without it. I've had a sliver for breakfast, and also enjoyed a slice as dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream up on top. Scrumptious both ways.

I see this recipe making a great addition to a Spring brunch menu... or for any plain ol' day of the week. So go ahead and welcome Spring to your palate.

Lemon Buttermilk Poundcake
Slightly adapted from Fine Cooking.com

You'll Need:

1 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup) unsalted butter, slightly soft

1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk
Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped or grated

For the syrup:
Juice of 1 lemon
3 to 4 Tbs. confectioners’ sugar


Directions:

1.Heat the oven to 325°F. Spray a loaf pan that’s about 8x5x3 inches with a nonstick coating.

2.Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt until well blended. With an electric mixer, beat the butter until it’s very pale and little tails have formed. Sprinkle in the sugar and beat well until slightly fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl well.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until blended before adding the next. Add teaspoon of vanilla. With the mixer on low, add about one-third of the flour and mix until almost combined; then add half the buttermilk and mix until just combined. Repeat with another third of flour, and then the last half of the buttermilk, ending with the last third of the flour.

4. Just before all the flour is incorporated, switch from the mixer to a stiff rubber spatula, add the lemon zest, and slowly stir to blend in the flour and zest, taking care to scrape the bowl’s bottom and sides.

5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is golden brown and a toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it when inserted in the center, 45 to 50 min. Let the cake cool for about 10 min.

Optional:

Stir together the lemon juice and confectioners’ sugar. Brush or pour onto poundcake.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Decadence Incarnate

I feel like I've been posting a LOT of dessert or sweet recipes lately, but that's not going to stop me from adding this one to the list because it would simply be unfair to keep this to myself any longer.

Chocolate. Cream. Espresso. Caramel. Graham cracker. Butter. What's not to love?

I decided to make Espresso Caramel Bars last Friday when we had my in-laws over because I know that my father-in-law loves dark chocolate and coffee as much as I do. {Which is a lot, in case you were wondering exactly how much.} Plus, between all the millions of other things I had going on in preparation of having an apartment full of guests for the weekend, I didn't need a recipe that would send me over the edge {which is quite easy to do when I'm already a bit stressed}. This one was just simple yet exciting enough to work.

Boy, am I glad I choose to make this. This stuff is dangerous. And I'm warning you ahead of time because I don't want you sending me the bills from your tailor when you have to let out the waist of your pants a few inches. 

Rich. Creamy. Chewy. Sweet. Enough of the adjectives. Get in the kitchen and do it.


Espresso Caramel Bars
Slightly Adapted from Foodnetwork.com

Crust:
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 12 whole crackers)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1  stick unsalted butter, melted
Caramel:
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream (I used half & half,it was just as good)
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
Chocolate Layer:
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, optional

For the crust:
Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan with parchment or waxed paper. Spray the paper and the sides of the pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar. Add the melted butter and blend until the mixture forms into clumps. Spread the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing gently to form an even layer. Place the pan on a baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the crust is golden. Cool for 15 minutes.

For the caramel:
While the crust is cooling, in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 1/2 cup of half & half, butter, sugar, and water. Stir over medium heat until the mixture is smooth. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 240 degrees F, about 5 to 7 minutes. *NOTE: I didn't have a candy thermometer & eyeballed it. When the bubbling slowed down substantially and the mixture looked thickened, I figured it was ready. This may not be the best method.* Carefully pour the caramel over the warm crust. Cool for 20 minutes. Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

For the chocolate layer:
Combine the chocolate chips and cream in a small bowl and place over a pan of simmering water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes. Whisk in the espresso powder. Remove the springform pan from the freezer. Pour the chocolate mixture over the caramel layer and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle the top with smoked sea salt, if using. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour until firm.

Allow the layers to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Using a warm, slightly wet knife, carefully cut around the edges of the chocolate layer. Release the side of the pan and remove the paper from the bottom. Cut into 1 1/2 by 1/2-inch bars and store airtight in a covered plastic container or put directly into your mouth. ;)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Pitas & Pantry Staples

Steve came home for lunch today, stood in the kitchen, and murmured the words I was dreading hearing: "What's for lunch?"

Considering we never really went grocery shopping after last weekend's visitors left us, there weren't too many options. This week's lunches have mostly consisted of leftover pizza, salad with various things thrown in, and whatever else I could manage to put together somewhat cohesively from the few ingredients in our fridge. {Bad wife!}

 Well, today is Friday, and the fridge has not magically stocked itself {despite my wishing in vain}, so I did what any girl would do: I raided the pantry.

I don't know about you, but I always keep various types of canned beans on hand for occasions such as today when I need a quick side dish, soup, or added protein. Today's selection was cannellini beans, so I whipped up a quick white bean spread that ended up being pretty tasty. Steve wound up using it in a GF tortilla, making a vegetarian wrap out of my creation. I just scooped it up with whole wheat pita chips I made yesterday and munched happily away.

This may not have made the most hearty lunch, but it would make a great dip or spread for veggies & chips and I'll probably be making it again. Ok... time to make a trip to the grocery store. :P

In a Pinch White Bean Spread















You'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed & drained (I happened to have 1/2 a can already rinsed & drained in the fridge, but you can just use 1 or 2 whole cans, obviously)
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
Directions:

1. Place all ingredients except olive oil into food processor.

2. Process ingredients, streaming in olive oil until smooth consistency is reached.

3. Serve as sandwich spread, as dip for veggies, or with pita chips. Yum!

Whole Wheat Pita Chips

You'll Need:
  • 3 or 4 whole wheat pitas (or as many as you need)
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt
Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with foil

2. Brush pitas lightly with olive oil on both sides. Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut pitas into wedges (I usually make 6 wedges out of each pita).

3. Place on lined cookie sheet and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

4. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or to desired crunchiness. (I'm not gonna lie, I forgot mine were in the oven & consequently had some very brown, albeit crunchy & delicious pita chips.) ;)