Archive | April, 2014

MINT JULEP: THE OFFICIAL COCKTAIL OF THE KENTUCKY DERBY & OUR WEDDING

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You know what’s hard to believe? In one week, George and I will have been officially married for one year. I guess it’s really not that hard to believe, considering we’ve been together for what will be nine years later in May. We got married on the first Saturday in May last year, which also happened to be the day of the Kentucky Derby. We chose it purposefully. I wanted a May wedding (nice weather, my favorite flowers, blah blah blah) and every other weekend in May is something else. The second weekend is Mother’s Day. Didn’t want to overlap that. My birthday falls on the 19th. Didn’t want to overlap that. Then you have Memorial Day somewhere in there, so the first weekend + the Derby was perfect. It works out well because we love the Derby anyway. Neither of us are horse people, but a fancy fussy sporting event with its very own designated drink? Hells yes! Let’s embrace it and have some Derby-tastic fun at this thing, amiright? So we did. We projected “the fastest two minutes in sports” just as our reception officially started (we didn’t want to miss the race just because we tied the knot!), and our wedding toast—instead of bubbly—was a mint julep.

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In honor of the Derby next week (and our 1st anniversary as a couple of “Marrieds”), we’re going to clink glasses and cheers with a Mint Julep today. That way you have a full week to practice your muddling so you’re ready for Saturday! I warn you now—buy your mint in advance. If you wait until Saturday the grocery stores will be out of stock. Trust me, I speak from experience!! The drink below makes one cocktail, but it’s an easy one to multiply. We also suggest you make a mint simple syrup, but it will still be delicious if you use regular simple syrup instead.

Oh yeah, and those snazzy personalized wooden swizzle sticks? Those are from my best friend and maid of honor. She took our wedding logo I created for our invitations, and had them made for my bridal shower. Such a fabulous touch, don’t you think?

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::: MINT JULEP :::
Makes 1 drink

• 6-8 mint leaves
• 1-2 extra mint leaves for garnish
• 1 tsp white sugar
• 2 tsp mint simple syrup (recipe follows)
• 2 oz whiskey or bourbon
• 3 oz club soda
• crushed ice

Muddle mint leaves, sugar, and syrup in cocktail glass. Top with crushed ice. Add whiskey and top with club soda. Garnish with mint leaves.

::: Mint Simple Syrup ::::
Adapted from Martha Stewart

• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water
• 1 bunch of fresh mint (4 oz or more)

In medium sauce pan, combine water, sugar, and mint leaves. Stir often and dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking for 5 minutes after sugar is dissolved. Let the leaves steep for 15-20 minutes, then strain leaves from syrup. Make sure to compress the leaves to strain them well! I have found the best way to keep simple syrup is in a mason jar in the refrigerator.

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PRETZEL BROWNIE PIE

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Happy Birthday, George! Except, not really. George’s birthday was a few weeks ago. He’s an early April baby, an Aries, who shares a birthday with Hugh Hefner, Dennis Quaid, and Blair Waldorf herself Leighton Meester. And this Aries loooves his brownies. He’s probably one of the few guys out there who will choose to make brownies from scratch on a Saturday night just because he’s craving them something fierce. I always bake him something for his birthday and, as usual, this year I asked him if he wants anything specific. He didn’t really have an answer for me so I jumped in with “…because I saw this recipe and kind of wanted to try it.” It was a brownie. It was a pie. And it was from the previously mentioned cookbook Favorite Brand Name Baking that had the super delicious Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie. After the success of that pie, I was itching to try this “Decadent Brownie Pie” recipe. I was particularly intrigued because instead of flour it called for biscuit mix. Interesting, no? I don’t know why that sounded so interesting to me, but I was just dying to see how that would affect the flavor and texture.

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Luckily George was game, so the Saturday before his actual birthday (he would be traveling for work on the real day) I got to work in the kitchen. And of course, I changed a few things. The pie recipe calls for a typical pie crust, just like the Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie did. And we both said “Yeah, no, that sounds lame,” just like we did for the Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie. This time, I made a crust out of pretzels and store-bought shortbread cookies. It seemed more fitting, and the salt from the pretzel crust would be perfect with the chocolate. I wanted to mix it with shortbread cookies because a) the buttery flavor would add a subtle richness and b) the cookies would pulverize to a smaller crumb that the pretzel wouldn’t be able to fully achieve.

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And that gooey stuff? Yeah, that’s chocolate ganache. Say it with me now: guh-NOSH. I make a mean chocolate ganache that would even make cardboard delicious (okay, maybe that’s a little drastic). Ganache, if you’re not familiar, is a mixture of heavy cream and melted chocolate to create a liquidy chocolate sauce. You can make it a thick or thin as you like, depending on the ratio of cream to chocolate. While ice cream is always welcome, the real topping you want for this pie is the ganache. Just trust me on this. The brownie has a lighter, milkier chocolate flavor (yes, even if you use bittersweet chocolate. I used 62% from Ghirardelli). The ganache’s darker chocolate flavor and warm, gooey texture marries so well with the pie and really makes it sing. Plus, ganache could not be easier to make. For today’s purposes, I’ll lead you to a link online for ganache because I want to cover my ganache recipe in another lesson another day. (Yes, it will be worth the wait!)

The pie is actually better the second day, if that makes any sort of sense. Normally that’s the kind of thing you say about chili, not baked goods, right? But that’s what happened. If you store it in an airtight container, the flavors and moistness of the pie get to mingle a little longer and get absorbed into the entire pie. I would NOT store it with ganache, since it has dairy. Keep the ganache in a separate container, store it in the refrigerator and heat it in the microwave for a few seconds as needed. If you drizzle it over the entire pie and don’t end up consuming the whole thing like you thought you might, then just keep the whole pie in the fridge (airtight container still applies!).

Alright, that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the good stuff.

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::: PRETZEL BROWNIE PIE :::

CRUST:
• 2 cups pretzel sticks
• 10 shortbread cookies
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
• 2 TBSP sugar

PIE:
• 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (approx 6 oz by weight)
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
• 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
• 1/2 cup biscuit baking mix (I used Pioneer brand)
• 2 eggs
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 1 cup chopped nuts (OPTIONAL! I did not use these. While I like nuts, I don’t like them getting in the way of my homogenous brownie texture, but to each his own!)

1. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. Make the crust. Spray your desired pan (pie pan or springform) with non-stick cooking spray. Measure out your pretzels and cookies, then pulse in a food processor until you have a fine crumb.

3. Melt the butter. Mix melted butter and sugar with pretzel and cookie crumbs. If you need more melted butter to get it to stick together, then knock yourself out.

4. Press mixture to bottom and sides of pan.

5. Next, melt chocolate chips with butter over low heat (or slowly in microwave, in increments of 30 seconds. Stir in between.).

6. In bowl of electric mixer, beat chocolate mixture with sweetened condensed milk, eggs, vanilla, and biscuit mix. Mix until smooth. Pour into pie crust.

7. Bake for 35-40 minutes.

8. While the pie is baking it’s time to make the ganache! I trust Ina Garten’s recipe, but reduce the ingredients by half. You won’t need the entire amount for this pie.

9. Serve the pie warm or at room temperature. Top with warm ganache and ice cream. Dig in. Enjoy the chocolatey coma.

What do you guys normally do for birthdays? Do you demand the traditional cake, or do you like to venture outside the box?

EASY-PEASY RASPBERRY CREAM CHEESE CRESCENT DANISH

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That was George’s response after he took his first bite. I’d say that’s a pretty solid endorsement, wouldn’t you?

I decided to make this pastry one recent Saturday morning. I wasn’t expecting miracles, or even applause, but I’m pretty sure I could’ve convinced George to buy me a Louis Vuitton bag after he took his first bite (ok, maybe not a Louis but I could’ve finagled some Tory Burch sunglasses out of it at least). I’m calling this an Easy-Peasy Raspberry Cream Cheese Crescent Danish, but it could also be called “How to impress your guests without really trying.” I’m telling you, this is reeeaaally easy. And ridiculously tasty. I generally keep a roll or two of Pillsbury Crescent dough in the refrigerator because you never know when it might come in handy. We don’t eat it very often (due to calories, or the “Lord only knows where this processed deliciousness came from” factor) but sometimes you just have to do it. This was one of those times.

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It’s the perfect thing to make for overnight guests because it requires just a few ingredients that you can assemble pretty quickly. The scent of it baking is intoxicating and they’ll be dying to dive in. And if they’re anything like my husband, they just might come a little too close to actually burying their face in it. With Easter just around the corner, it’s the perfect thing for breakfast that morning for your family (or just you, so you don’t have to share).

I’m not the first to think of this recipe, as there are bunches of very similar variations floating around the interweb. I did, however, up the fancy factor by adding a layer of fruity goodness. I prefer fruit danishes myself, and I had some jam and raspberries hanging out in my fridge. Why not make it a party?

When you’re buying the ingredients, look for the full sheet of Crescent dough as opposed to the kind that’s already cut into the classic 8 triangles. Not that you couldn’t use the 8 triangles in a pinch, but it will just be a bit easier with a solid sheet.

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::: EASY-PEASY RASPBERRY CREAM CHEESE CRESCENT DANISH:::

• 2 cans Pillsbury Crescent Roll, full sheet dough
• 1/2 c raspberry jam
• 1/2 c raspberries
• 1 tsp sugar
• 2 (8oz) packages cream cheese (softened)
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1/3 cup butter (melted)
• Cinnamon & sugar
• Honey (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.
2. Heat the fresh berries in a small saucepan over medium heat with 1 tsp of sugar (white, demerrara, coconut palm, your preference). You don’t want to cook them down to jam, but you want to loosen them up, mash them, incorporate the sugar and get their oozy juices flowing. This will only take about 5 minutes.
3. Combine cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
4. Unroll and spread 1 can crescent dough on bottom of lightly sprayed 9 x 13 pan.
5. Spread with 1/2 c jam of your preference. I’m generally a blackberry or raspberry girl. If using fresh berries, top the jam with the berries.
6. Spread cream cheese mixture over top of jam layer.
7. Unroll and spread remaining crescent rolls over mixture. Spread melted butter over the top and sprinkle with plenty of cinnamon and sugar.
8. Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes. Let pan cool on wire cooling rack. WARNING! Don’t cut into them until they’re at room temperature (or you know, as close to room temperature as you can manage before letting temptation get the best of you ;-)). If you cut them while they’re too hot, the inner layers of jam and cream cheese will ooze out into a big ol’ mess and we don’t want that.
10. Cut them diagonally, cut them into squares, whatever your preference. Diagonals look fancy, but it creates weird shaped tiny pieces that are leftover. Annoying, or awesome pieces the cook gets to sneak behind the scenes? You decide.
11. I didn’t do it because it didn’t dawn on me at the time, but you could drizzle a little honey over them before serving. Hello, decadence. (Also: looks fancy, not hard. High five.)

If you don’t want to use raspberries, you could replace with strawberries, blackberries, maybe even blueberries (though those suckers I’d want to puree and cook down). You could even cook down some apples and brown sugar as your fruit layer. Bananas, too! See the possibilities? Endless!

RADIO SILENCE

*Alternate Title: Here, There, & Everywhere

We’re still here! We’re still here y’all, I promise!!!! I haven’t posted in a very long time. We need a signal or auto post or something for when our lives get consumed. Basically, real life just got a little too cray cray. In the past 2.5 weeks I’ve been in Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, and now some little town in Tennesee (so no, we’re not in Nashville pretending to be Rayna James and Deacon Claybourne/Luke Wheeler/whoever-her-love-interest-is-at-the-moment). Most of the travel has been work-related, but some is for family. And while we still cooked and baked and cocktailed, we just didn’t have any opportunities to edit photos and write posts. AND IT BUMS ME OUT. So here we are. We’re back, we’re alive. Hopefully I’ll have some time to get back to posting. I have one ready that I’ll publish tomorrow.

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In the meantime, enjoy some photos of the almost-12 hours I spent in NYC! Some highlights:

• Said hello to my friend, the Flatiron Building (my college internship was in the neighborhood, so I feel like we’re buds).

• Stopped in Dylan’s Candy Bar. Discovered that there is a candy called Fruity Farts. No, that is not a typo. And FYI, they’re just kind of like Nerds, but without the zingy flavor. Think crunchy sugary candy bits.

• Some views from Top of the Rock (i.e. 30 Rockefeller Center, home of NBC).

• While sitting on a patio at a restaurant right next to Rock Center, someone sort of famous popped by. Anyone watch The Today Show? Or other NBC newsy programs? NBC’s Jeff Rossen just happened to meet up w/ a friend who was sitting right next to our table. Totally random. Definitely took a creeper shot. Sorry, Jeff. It’s not every day I see a real life Today Show person (and for the record, George and I watch The Today Show every morning).

• While on that same patio, my travel buddy and I ordered yellowfin steak tacos and sriracha mayo shrimp. Both unexpectedly really darn good. You might see our own version of the shrimp pop-up in the future.

So that’s about it. Expect some baked goodness to go up tomorrow. And in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a glass of white wine like my good friend Jeff is up above.