Monday, July 2, 2018

Chewy Chocolate Cherry Pop Rock Sprinkled Brownies

Buzzfeed recently posted a video ranking different celebrity brownie recipes. This one by Gordon Ramsay is sprinkled in Pop Rocks (or as he calls them, “popping candy.” We tried this recipe out for a pre-Fourth of July BBQ over the weekend.

We love watching all of Gordon Ramsay's shows, but especially Masterchef Junior. I'm always so impressed by the talent of these 8-12 year olds! Plus, there's a lot less drama and Gordon is way nicer to the kids than the adults... 

I have to say, I followed the recipe and mine did NOT turn out as expected. The brownies were so thick that the inside wasn’t cooking so it was liquid inside at the end of the cooking time. Also, it recommended lining the pan with parchment paper, which ended up being more of a hassle than just spraying the pan like I normally do. I was ready to call it a Pinstrosity, but after cooking them for a bit longer and hiding all the crevices in sprinkles and Pop Rocks, they weren’t nearly as horrible looking.

In addition to Pop Rocks, the brownies have dried cherries inside giving them a Black-Forest Cake flavor. It was kind of a strange combination; I think I’d try the same base recipe but with toasted coconut or nuts on top next time.

If you do end up using Pop Rocks, make sure to wait for the brownies to cool and sprinkle them right before serving, otherwise they may end up melting and losing their pop. Also, I got red and blue Pop Rocks for Fourth of July, however, be warned that the color on the packages does not match the color inside. The green package is actually red watermelon inside and the blue package is green tropical punch (the strawberry was the only predictable color).

Hope you have better success than I do if you try these for Independence Day! At least they tasted better than they looked...

Chewy Chocolate Cherry Pop Rock Sprinkled Brownies (adapted from Gordon Ramsay)

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1-1/3 cups sugar
  • 16 oz dark chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup dried sour cherries
  • 2 T milk
  • ½ cup Pop Rocks
  • Sprinkles


1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13 pan (I’d steer clear of using the parchment lining)

2. Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

3. Melt 2/3 of the chocolate chips. I put mine in the microwave and heated on 30 second increments while stirring until liquid.

4. Pour the chocolate into the butter mixture and combine. Add the flour, salt, vanilla extract, and cocoa powder and mix together.

5. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl and beat with a fork until well mixed. Stir the eggs into the chocolate mixture.  

6. Stir in the sour cherries and remaining chocolate chips. If the mixture feels stiff, loosen it with a few tablespoons of milk.  

7. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for 40-45 minutes or until the brownies are coming away from the side.

8. Take the brownies out of the oven and leave to cool.

*At this point, we were running late for the BBQ, so we cut the brownies much too early, then ended up making a mess. Make sure you allow time for the brownies to cool completely

9. When cooled and ready to serve, sprinkle with Pop Rocks and sprinkles.

*We tried to use more melted chocolate as a frosting, which tasted good but caused the Pop Rocks to melt. If you use them as a topping, they shouldn’t touch anything liquid to remain intact.

Want to try out other celebrity brownie recipes? Check out Buzzfeed's video here: 

Monday, April 9, 2018

Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse – Tampa, Florida

Last night we had the privilege of previewing the brand-new Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse on South Dale Mabry in Tampa before it officially opens on tomorrow.

We were sad when GrillSmith closed in that location awhile back because I love their pumpkin crab bisque (luckily, they are moving into the old Grille One Sixteen location further up the road just north of Kennedy…) 

Terra Gaucha has run a successful restaurant in Jacksonville since 2015. They worked with BDG Architects to convert the previous Grillsmith location into an elegant new space that is now fit for the churrascaria style dining experience. This culinary style originated with the South American cowboys, or “gaúchos,” who grilled meats over an open flame.

I’ve been lucky getting to preview the transformation of the restaurant since I work for the architect. Our interior design team did an amazing job (you can read more about the design concept here). I love the beautiful wine display at the entrance as well as the custom sculpture and painting by artist Marc De Waele.

We had never visited a Brazilian steakhouse before, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. For dinner, restaurant patrons have the option for either a gourmet salad and hot bar or the “full rodizio experience” which includes the salad bar as well as unlimited access to over a dozen varieties of meats cut tableside. We were invited to be part of the “friends and family” night to sample the menu, so our meals were complimentary (minus the drinks…)

They have a diverse wine menu, but we tried their cocktails instead. Lance had the caipirinha, made with cachaça (a Brazilian rum), sugar, and lime. I had the same but with muddled pineapple and mint, which I’d definitely order again.

As we were seated, we were served cheesey puffs of bread along with caramelized bananas. The bread was good but I wanted to keep room for all the food to follow. However, we did devour the bananas (they brought us another plate of them after we cleaned the first plate).

When I heard they had a salad bar, I pictured it being more like a Sweet Tomatoes, but I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. They had a few meats and cheeses (including an enormous wheel of parmesan), grilled pineapple, roasted garlic, soups, salads, and more.

Once we had our fill of that, we flipped over a card to signify that we were ready for the servers to bring us meat. It seems that the second we flipped it over, we had half a dozen people dashing our way to serve us. We almost had to flip the cards over as soon as we turned them to green because otherwise we’d never have the opportunity to try the meats they cut for us. 

My favorite of the meats was the Porco Com Parmesao (pork tenderloin encrusted with Parmesan cheese). It is soaked in white wine and herbs before being roasted and coasted in cheese. I also enjoyed the smoky Linguiça (Brazilian sausage) and the Picanha (their house specialty premium sirloin). The rest came by so quickly I could barely keep track of what I was sampling. You can see the variety of meats here (we thought it was funny that the “gauchos” were labeled the same as the meats on the menu…hopefully they weren’t turning us into cannibals!) 

Our waiter, Dennis, was extremely welcoming and attentive. He asked for our feedback on the drinks and dishes, which was all positive on our end. I would have loved to have tried one of their desserts, but we were beyond full at the end of our meal. 

While we really enjoyed ourselves, we’d have to save this for a special occasion because it is pricier than we’d spend on a typical date night. Plus, as much as I enjoyed the food, I just don’t eat enough to make any all-you-can-eat establishment worth it. Lance already said he wants to come back for his birthday though because for him, the more meat the better. I wish there was a way to visit and enjoy the salad bar with a smaller sampling of the meats rather than the unlimited option.

Happy to have another new restaurant concept in town and we wish them the best!

Terra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse is located at 1108 S Dale Mabry Hwy, Tampa, FL 33629.  They are open for lunch Monday through Friday 11:30am – 2pm and Saturday/Sunday from 11:30am – 3pm. For dinner, they are open from 5 – 10pm Monday through Friday, 4 – 10:30pm on Saturday, and 4 – 9pm on Sunday.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Orange Cannoli Cheesecake

I’ve been making a cheesecake every Easter for nearly a decade now! This year was my 11th year of this tradition. Hard to believe it’s been that long since I was in college making these with my roommates…

It’s getting more difficult to find a unique flavor that I haven’t made in the past, but I save cheesecake recipes throughout the year in preparation. This year I found an amazing recipe for orange cannoli cheesecake. Cannoli are one of my very favorite desserts, especially love them from Mazzaro’s Italian Market in St. Pete. (By the way, did you know a single cannoli is called a “cannolo”? Just learned that now…cannoli is actually the plural form…)

The hardest part of this recipe was actually finding cannoli shells that weren’t already filled. I’m sure if I drove to a specialty market or bakery, it would have worked out fine, but I was on the hunt late at night and ended up at 4 grocery stores before I found them (none at Trader Joes or Sprouts, Publix wouldn’t sell them empty since they didn’t have a SKU for them, so I ended up at Whole Foods).  

This cheesecake uses ricotta instead of cream cheese and is topped with a layer of cannoli filling, pistachios, Trader Joe’s candied orange slices, and couple cannoli for decoration.

We had a family potluck at our house with 16 people this year – all the food was delicious but I especially loved my mom’s cute chick deviled eggs!

We had plenty of leftovers because there was so much food. Plus, my grandpa brought a Goody Goody strawberry pie for dessert so we had lots of sweets.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter spent with loved ones. Check out the recipe below if you want to make this cake for yourself (or come to our house quickly if you want some leftovers!)

Orange Cannoli Cheesecake (adapted from Creative Culinary)

Crust Ingredients:
  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
Cake Ingredients:
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup plus 1 T all purpose flour
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp freshly grated orange peel
  • 2 T orange juice
  • 7 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
Topping & Garnish Ingredients:
  • 4 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp fresh orange zest
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 ½ cups shelled pistachios, chopped
  • Candied orange slices
  • 8 cannoli shells (we only used 2 for the actual cheesecake and the rest for filling with the extra cannoli cream)


1. Place ricotta cheese into a fine mesh strainer and place in the fridge for at least 12 hours and up to 24 to drain (I ended up patting mine with paper towels to remove the excess moisture)

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

3. Spray a 9” springform pan with cooking spray (I use coconut oil spray)

4. Combine all crust ingredients together and press evenly into the bottom of the pan and ½” up the sides of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes and allow to cool before filling.

5. In a large bowl or stand mixer, beat the 2 cups of ricotta and granulated sugar until smooth. Beat in flour, vanilla, orange peel, and orange juice. Add beaten eggs, one at a time, and blend on low speed until just incorporated.

6. Sprinkle chocolate chips with flour (to keep them from settling to the bottom of the pan). Sift out the flour and add the chips to filling. Mix gently and pour into the prepared pan.

7. Fill a large baking pan with 1” hot water. Place the springform cheesecake pan into the baking pan and bake for 75 minutes, or until center is almost set.

8. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and place the springform pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

9. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to loosen. Let cool for an additional hour then remove the pan. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

10. For the cannoli filling, combine the ricotta, powdered sugar, vanilla, orange zest, ¾ cup of the chocolate chips, and ¾ cup of the pistachios.

11. Pipe filling into the cannoli shells and dip the ends into the remaining chocolate chips.

12. Spread the remaining cannoli cream over the cheesecake. Arrange the candied orange slices around the edge of the cake, sprinkle the remaining pistachios in the center of the cake, and top with cannoli.

Candied Bacon Pretzel Mac & Cheese

Our friend Jason held his birthday at Infusion Brewing in Trinity last week. The brewery was hosting a mac & cheese competition that day so of course we had to participate!

The contest was judged on cheesiness, texture, seasoning, overall taste, and creativity. We spent time on Pinterest trying to find a unique recipe and came across a couple that incorporated pretzels for crunchy texture, which was perfect since they also pair great with beer! As an added bonus, we also topped ours with candied bacon, one of Lance’s mom’s recipes.

There were nine different kinds (one was disqualified since it was made by one of the brewers). There was a pretty good variety, but I’m of course biased and loved ours the best! Our second favorite was actually the disqualified one which incorporated Infusion Brewing’s “Pep in Yo Step” Double IPA, brewed with jalapeño and serrano peppers.

Unfortunately, we weren’t the winners this time – honestly I think it wasn’t as much based on taste/creativity as it was on who had the largest group of people with them to vote. Ours was completely devoured by the time we left, so in my books that means we won. And now we have a really awesome go-to mac and cheese recipe if we really want to splurge!

We doubled the recipe below which ended up making even more than would fit in our large crockpot. Unless you’ve got a huge group, a single version of the recipe will feed plenty of people

Candied Bacon Pretzel Mac & Cheese (adapted from Food to Love)

  • 8 pieces candied bacon (recipe here), broken into bite-sized pieces  
  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta (you can use whatever kind you like, but the spiral shape held the cheese pretty well)
  • 16 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 2 T Dijon mustard
  • 4 cups milk (we used 2%)
  • 1¼ cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar
  • 2 cups pepperjack cheese
  • 1 cup mozzarella  
  • 5 T butter
  • 1 cup pretzels, chopped into pieces
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs


1. Cook the candied bacon according to the recipe (this can be done a day ahead of time since it takes two hours to cook).

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

3. Cook pasta for 2 minutes less than the cooking time in the instructions.

4. Shred the cheddar, mozzarella and pepperjack cheeses.

5. Drain and dump the cooked pasta into a large greased baking dish (we used a disposable one since we didn’t have one large enough).

6. Process cream cheese, salt, and mustard until smooth. Add half the milk, process until smooth. Pour over the pasta mixture. Stir in the remaining milk, cream, half of the candied bacon, and 4 cups of the shredded cheese mixture.  

7. Top the pasta with the remaining 1 cup of shredded cheese, remaining candied bacon, and the panko breadcrumbs

8. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

9. Take out of oven and top with pretzel pieces.

Note: We had to transfer this all to a crockpot to keep it warm at the competition, so we waited to add the candied bacon and pretzel topping until we moved the pasta to the new dish.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Thanksgiving Recipes 2017

Thanksgiving is always my favorite holiday of the year of course since it is centered around food and family. My in-laws came in town for a week, so we had plenty of meals together including the main event on Thursday. 

Leading up to that week, my work had a potluck and I brought this cute veggie tray! So happy with how it turned out. We decided he looked more like an Angry Bird though haha!

My friend Amanda also hosted a Friendsgiving the weekend before and I made a baked brie. I’ve done this recipe several times before, but I tried a new version this time with toasted pecans and Trader Joe’s apple jam. You can use whatever type of nut and jam combination you like (here’s the recipe from awhile back on my blog…)

Tuesday night before Thanksgiving we had both sets of parents over and tried out a recipe I’d never made before – Baked Four Cheese Butternut Squash Rigatoni. I’ve recently become obsessed with the food blog Half Baked Harvest. Everything I’ve tried from that website is incredible (actually 2 of my recipes this year were from her!) Since I was cooking this after work and didn’t have much time, I used Trader Joe’s canned butternut squash puree rather than cooking a squash and scooping out the insides myself.

Thanksgiving dinner was at my Grandma Pat & Grandpa Craig’s house this year. They just moved into a new place which has a huge kitchen so it’s perfect for entertaining. We ended up with 19 people this year and more food than I think we’ve ever had any other Thanksgiving yet. My contributions were Maple Roasted Carrots in Hummus Sauce with Pomegranates and Pistachios as well as a Wild Rice Salad with Cranberries and Nuts.  

Then on Friday, we had some friends and their parents over. I made my go-to easy Pesto Crockpot Chicken, but then tried another Half Baked Harvest recipe – Brown Sugar and Pineapple Acorn Squash with Spiced Brown Butter. I think this is now my favorite way to make squash – it’s almost like dessert.

I’d say all the new recipes this week were a success and I’ll definitely use them again!  What were your favorite dishes this Thanksgiving? Send recipes you love my way because I’m always looking for new ones!

Baked Four Cheese Butternut Squash Rigatoni (adapted from Half Baked Harvest)

  • 1 can butternut squash puree (found at Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 head garlic, outer skins removed
  • 2 T olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 2 t dried thyme
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • ½ cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded asiago cheese
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese
  • Turkey pepperoni (recipe called for 8-10 but we used way more!)  


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Chop the top 1/3 of the garlic off to reveal the cloves. Place in a muffin tin and drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake 20-30 minutes or until the garlic is soft enough to squeeze out of the skin. Turn the oven to 450 degrees.

3. Boil pasta in a large pot until al dente. Reserve 1-1/2 cups of the water before draining.

4. Add the butternut squash, roasted garlic, and reserved pasta water, milk, oregano, and thyme to a blender. Season with salt & pepper and pulse until smooth. Add the ricotta and pulse until just combined.

5. Pour the butternut squash over the pasta and set the pot over medium heat. Add the spinach, sundried tomatoes, and ¼ cup of oil from the sun-dried tomato jar. Toss to combine. Cook until the spinach is wilted and the sauce is hot, about 5 minutes.

6. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and asiago cheeses. Spread the pasta in an even layer in a 9x13 baking dish and top with mozzarella and pepperoni. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and gooey.

Maple Roasted Carrots with Hummus Drizzle, Pomegranates & Pistachios (adapted from Closet Cooking)

  • 2 pounds carrots, peeled (I used Trader Joe’s multicolored kind)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 T maple syrup
  • 2 T garlic hummus (or regular hummus and add grated garlic)
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 T parsley (I used the Gourmet Garden parsley paste that comes in a tube - it keeps way longer and tastes fresher than dried parsley) 
  • 2 T pomegranate arils (click here if you need instructions on how to remove the arils yourself)
  • 2 T pistachios, chopped


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Toss the carrots in a mixture of 1 T olive oil and 1 T maple syrup. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Rub each carrot with a bit of parsley, then roast until tender, about 20-30 minutes, turning once in the middle.

3. Mix together the hummus, 1 T olive oil, and lemon juice until it creates a thin drizzle.

4. Serve the carrots topped with the hummus, pomegranates & pistachios.

Wild Rice Salad with Cranberries and Nuts (adapted from The View from Great Island)

  • 1 cup wild rice (we used Trader Joe’s Basmati & Wild Rice Medley which already has some seasonings)
  • ¼ cup pecans
  • ¼ cup cashews
  • ¼ cup pistachios
  • ¼ small red onion
  • Sevral small inner stalks of celery with leaves
  • 3 green onions
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 T balsamic
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 t whole grain mustard
  • 1 t honey
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


1. Cook the rice according to the package.

2. While the rice is cooking, chop the pecans and cashews into pieces and put them on a baking sheet in a 375 degree oven until just toasted (keep an eye on them so they don’t burn!)

3. When the rice is finished, add the nuts, red onion, celery, green onion, and cranberries.

4. Combine the olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt and pepper in a jar with a lid. Shake vigorously. Toss the salad with half the dressing and refrigerate until chilled.

5. When ready to serve, toss with the remaining dressing.

Brown Sugar and Pineapple Roasted Acorn Squash with Spiced Brown Butter (adapted from Half Baked Harvest)

  • 2 large or 3 small acorn squash, cut into wedges, seeds removed and reserved
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 1 – 8.5 oz can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 6 T butter plus more for greasing the pan
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1-1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 t chili powder
  • ½ t pepper
  • Dash of red pepper
  • Arils from 1 pomegranate


1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 pan with softened butter.

2. Line squash wedges on a prepared pan. Evenly sprinkle them with brown sugar, salt and pepper. Spoon the crushed pineapple over the wedges.

3. Place butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it melts, foams, froths, and begins to brown along the bottom. Remove from the heat and whisk the browned bits of butter off the bottom of the pan, adding in cinnamon, chili powder, and pepper.

4. Pour the butter over the squash, then cover with foil and place in the oven.

5. Roast for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and roast for another 30 minutes until the squash is tender and caramelized.

6. While the squash roasts, clean and dry the seeds. Season them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper and toss to coat. Toast the seeds in the oven until golden brown.

7. Sprinkle your squash with pomegranate arils and squash seeds.