Saturday, April 2, 2016

Almond Joy Easter Cheesecake

I’ve been slacking on the food blogging lately – way too much else going on right now!  We are less than a month away from getting married (April 30th!!!) and just bought a house, so it seems every spare moment of my time in consumed with wedding planning & house stuff. 

Despite all the craziness, I had to keep up my Easter tradition of baking a cheesecake.  This was my 9th annual cake – it’s starting to get difficult to think of new flavors to try out.  Last year was Chocolate Bailey’s – and you can see recipes for all the previous years here

I love anything with coconut – so Almond Joys are one of my favorite candies.  (My family agrees – my parents admitted to stealing some of my Almond Joys from my Halloween baskets…)  Although if they combined Mounds and Almond Joys to make them dark chocolate with almonds, it would be even better…

I think this cheesecake was probably the best I’ve made so far.  Not only are there almonds and coconut on the garnish, but they are baked into the crust and in the filling as well!  It was pretty time consuming, but definitely worth it. 

Almond Joy Cheesecake (adapted from The Curvy Carrot)
Ingredients:
·        For the glaze:
·        Coconut oil spray
·        1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (I used cinnamon-flavored)
·        1½ cups sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
·        ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
·        ¼ cup sugar
·        ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
·        4 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, at room temperature
·        1 cup sugar
·        4 large eggs
·        1 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted
·        1 T coconut extract
·        1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
For the glaze:
·        1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
·        ¾ cup heavy cream
·        1½ t vanilla extract
·        Whole roasted almonds, toasted coconut, for garnish
Directions:
For the crust:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Toast all your coconut and almonds for the recipe (keeping an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn…)

2. Spray your springform pan generously with coconut oil spray.
3. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers, almonds, coconut, and sugar to a fine crumb (my food processer is tiny, so I processed the ingredients individually then added them to my Kitchenaid mixer to blend…)
4. With the machine running, slowly add the melted butter and pulse until it resembles moist sand (or do this in a mixer).
5. Press the mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of the pan.
6. Bake the crust for about 12 minutes, or until set and lightly browned.
7. Remove from the oven and let cool.
8.  Readjust oven temperature to 325 degrees.
For the filling: 
9.  In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth.
10.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
11. Add the coconut and coconut extract.
12.  Stop the mixer, and gently fold in the toasted almonds with a spatula until well combined.
13. Transfer the filling to the cooled crust and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes (until the crust is puffy and lightly browned).
14. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
For the chocolate glaze: 
15. Combine the chocolate chips, cream, and vanilla in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently until smooth.
16.  Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
17. Pour the glaze over the cheesecake (which is still in the springform pan) and spread evenly.
18. Garnish with the whole almonds and remaining toasted coconut.
19.  Chill the cheesecake overnight or until firm and set.
20.  When ready to serve, run a knife around the perimeter of the pan to loosen the cake.  Release the pan sides and serve. Enjoy! 

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chocolate Soufflé for Two

For Valentine's Day dessert after our salmon dinner, I wanted to make something that would make just enough for the two of us.  I had a bar of Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt as a favor from my friend Liz's bridal shower.  And recently I bought these cute fox ramekins (surprisingly, they were from Walmart on sale - set of 4 for $10).  The center ends up being gooey like a molten lava cake.  Topped with raspberries, it was the perfect treat to end our meal (along with some chocolate wine!) 

Chocolate Souffle for Two (adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction

Ingredients:
  • 3 oz dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 3 T brown sugar
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T egg (crack 1 egg, beat it, and use 2 T)
  • 6 T all-purpose flour 
  • 1/4 t baking powder
  • 1/8 t baking soda 

Directions:

1. Spray each ramekin with nonstick spray (I use coconut oil spray).  Preheat oven to 350.  

2. Coarsely chop the chocolate.  Set one ounce aside.  Combine the other 2 ounces with the half and half in a medium heatproof bowl.  Microwave 25 seconds, then stir vigorously until melted and combined.  Reheat in 5 second increments if necessary.  Once melted and smooth, whisk in the brown sugar, then the oil, egg, and vanilla until combined.  

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.  Pour the wet ingredients in and fold with a rubber spatula until there are no lumps.  Pour evenly into ramekins - they should be about 3/4 the way full.  

4. Drop the remaining chocolate into the centers of the cakes, using a spoon to fully submerge.  

5. Bake 15-16 minutes, rotating at the half way mark.  The centers will stay slightly gooey.  Top with raspberries and serve immediately.  

Pan Seared Salmon with Mediterranean Salsa Fresca and Toasted Couscous

I think I've found my new favorite seafood recipe.  I made this salmon dish for Valentine's Day dinner and it was very easy and tasted incredibly fresh.  I made enough for leftovers, which were great in a salad for lunch the next day.  If you like salmon, definitely try out this recipe! 

Pan Seared Salmon with Mediterranean Salsa Fresca and Toasted Couscous (adapted from The Cozy Apron

Ingredients:
  • 1-1/2 pounds salmon fillets, skinned 
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 t paprika
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1/2 t onion powder
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t pepper
  • pinch of red pepper 
  • 1 t grated lemon zest
  • Mediterranean Salsa Fresca (recipe below)
  • Toasted couscous (recipe below) 
Directions:

1. Cut the salmon into 4 equal fillets.  Place in a bowl and drizzle with 2 T olive oil.  Sprinkle paprika, garlic, onion, cumin, salt, pepper, red pepper, and lemon zest and toss to coat the fillets.  Allow to marinate at least 20 minutes, or as long as overnight. 

2. Place a large cast-iron over medium-high heat.  Drizzle 2-3 T of olive oil.  Once oil is hot, add the salmon.  Sear on one side for about 4 minutes or until deep golden-brown.  Flip and allow to sear on the other side 4 more minutes.  Remove from skillet.  

3. Serve the salmon over a bed of toasted couscous and a side of the Mediterranean Salsa Fresca.  

Mediterranean Salsa Fresca 

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 small cucumber, diced
  • 1/3 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 3 T kalamata olives, diced
  • 1 t fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 t chopped parsley
  • 1/2 t lemon juice
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Directions:

1. Combine all ingredients and chill until ready to serve.

Toasted Couscous

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • salt
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 1 t Italian seasonings 

Directions:

1. Place a medium non-stock sauce pan over medium heat.  Add couscous and stir frequently while toasted.  Pour out of the pan and set aside.  

2. In the same pan, add water, a few pinches salt, olive oil, and garlic.  Stir to combine.  Bring water to a vigorous simmer, pour in the couscous, and stir.  Turn off the heat and cover with a lid.  Allow couscous to soften 5-7 minutes and fluff with a fork.  

Roasted Garlic

Ingredients:
  • 1 whole head garlic
  • 1 T olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Italian seasonings


Directions:

1.  Cut about 1/4 inch off the garlic so the inside is exposed.  Let soak in olive oil and spices while the oven preheats to 350.  

2. Put the garlic cut-side down in the oven in a muffin tin (you can roast several at once if you'd like).  The garlic turns sweet after being roasted and makes the perfect spread for toasted bread.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Austin, TX – Food & Drinks

Austin has been on my bucket-list of places to visit for a while.  My college roommate, Amy, went to grad school there and she kept telling me how amazing a city it is.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to go while she still lived there, but we finally took a mini-vacation there and it was incredible!

It’s funny that it’s part of Texas because the city feels more like Portland, OR.  There is a big emphasis on shopping local, there is art on every street corner, and it is full of friendly hipster people and non-chain restaurants.  It’s a bigger sized city, but they somehow managed to keep it really clean and preserve so much nature that it’s the best of both worlds. 
It seems that everywhere you look is another mural or sculpture.  

We flew in on a Thursday and started by wandering South Congress Ave where there are lots of funky shops.  We were originally planning to have lunch at Torchy’s Tacos, but we realized that that particular location was actually still under construction, set to open a week after we left town.  Instead, we stumbled upon a restaurant called Lucky Robot Japanese Kitchen.  It smelled so good from the outside we thought we’d have to give it a try!

It was bright and cheery inside and decorated with Star Wars memorabilia.  Several of the tables had swings suspended from the ceiling which I’ve never seen at a restaurant. 

If I had to pick one kind of food to eat for the rest of my life it would probably be Japanese.  Or maybe Vietnamese or Thai.  Really any Asian food is my favorite.  The menu at Lucky Robot had all sorts of interesting takes on Japanese food. 

Lance ordered their “nomnomiyaki”, which had pork belly, fried egg, cabbage, tonkatsu (we didn’t know what that was, but it turns out it’s deep fried pork cutlets), with scallions and sriracha.  He had it with a Lone Star beer (which is essentially Texas’ version of Budweiser…I didn’t think it was anything special…)  But his pork belly nomnom dish was delicious! 

I did one of the build-your-own bowls with tiger shrimp, veggies, brown rice, and Thai coconut curry sauce.  They brought a pretty large portion of rice but it was nice that it was on the side so I didn’t eat as much rice.  The sauce was pretty spicy, but I liked it a lot!  It was a large portion, but we devoured the whole thing. 

Their manager, David, actually noticed how many pictures I was taking and I told him about my food blog.  Even before my blog I took too many pictures of my food, but at least now I have a legitimate excuse. 

After that we checked in to our hotel which is by far the coolest place we’ve ever stayed.  It’s rented by a company called Soco Spaces that has several modern-style guest homes in the Travis Heights neighborhood in the south-east area of Austin.  We found it on hotels.com, but it was more like an Airbnb style apartment with a full kitchen and all the amenities we could possibly think of! 

I loved the mid-century modern style and that we had our own kitchen.  Lance was most excited I think that they had Trader Joe’s whole coffee beans with a grinder included in the kitchen so he got the best coffee he’d ever had at a hotel.  They even had some little snacks like popcorn and oatmeal in the pantry. 

That evening we visited Blue Owl Brewing, one of the newest local breweries.  It had a modern style (which was pretty prevalent in Austin…) and was very dog-friendly. 

There is some crazy local law that prevents their breweries from selling beer on-site, so as a loophole, they sell you glasses then fill it with “free” beer.  For $15 you got a really cool designed glass with 4 fills. 

Blue Owl specializes in sour-mashed beers.  I had only ever had a sour beer at Green Bench brewing – and those tend to be lighter beers.  Blue Owl actually had all sorts of beer styles in sour – wheat, pale ale, red and stout.  Lance would have liked if they had a sour IPA, but I thought it was a nice variety.  My favorite was the Professor Black – a sour cherry stout. 

Afterwards we headed to dinner at Salty Sow – a gastropub pig-themed décor.  It was cold outside but their patio had heaters. 

I ordered their duck breast – with turnips, oil-cured olives, and cardamom orange sauce.  Lance had the slow-cooked beef shoulder – with mashed potatoes, glazed root vegetables, and a fried egg. 

My meal was well made and tasty, but the portion was a bit small for the price.  Lance’s beef shoulder was served in a saucepan which was different but it was extra tender – that’s what I’d come back to order again. 

The next morning we had planned to take a long bike ride, so before we fueled up with breakfast tacos at Mi Madre’s.  I drank a horchata for the first time and loved it – rice milk with vanilla and cinnamon.  It’s extra tasty if you sip it through the cinnamon stick! 

They had a pretty wide range of tacos to pick from – some with breakfast style fillings like eggs, potatoes, sausage, and bacon – and others with more traditional taco fillings like beef, pork, and beans.  I think the best one was the pork carnitas with avocado and cilantro.  

It was pretty quiet when we were there – there was a whole back section of the restaurant that was empty.  The back area had decorations on the walls teaching you different words in Spanish. 

We rented bikes and went on a loop around the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.  This is by far the best biking trail I’ve done before – the Colorado River runs through the middle of the city, and this trail spans the whole length of the river then crosses bridges to create a 10-mile loop. 

The scenery is breathtaking and it winds through lots of pretty parks.  We stopped at Barton Springs, the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden, and Zilker Botanical Gardens along the ride.  Really would recommend it! 

That evening, we headed to Hops & Grain Brewery.  Again, you had to purchase a glass to fill with beer. 

This was one of the best brewery tours we went on because they didn’t just give you the same old spiel about “this is how beer is made”.  They really showed sincere appreciation for us visiting their brewery.  Craft beer only accounts for a very small percentage of the Texas beer market, and a lot of the politically connected distributers are making it difficult for the craft breweries to thrive.   

We found out that Hops & Grain is really focused on sustainability.  They use a portion of their spent grains to create dog treats.  They support their local environmental non-profits by giving back 1% of their annual revenue.  They have a water reclamation tank that collects the water used to cool beer and reuses it for cleaning tanks and floors.  Plus, they give their employees bonuses for taking sustainable modes of transportation to work and give paid days off for community service.  I love this business model. 

They invested in an on-site lab that ensures that their beer is consistent each time.  So no matter when or where you buy a Hops & Grain beer, it will taste the same every time.  And they had some pretty great beers – I especially liked the ALTeration, a German-style Altbier that won a gold medal at the 2012 World Beer Cup. 

After the brewery we went to dinner at Fukumoto – a high-end sushi restaurant that Lance took me to as a late birthday dinner.  Luckily we got there before the crowds showed up because they don’t take reservations for small parties, and it really was packed by the time we headed out. 

Our waiter greeted us with a small dish with what looked like mentos on it, but he poured hot water and they grew into mini towels.  The menu was pretty difficult to read since it was hand-written. 

We started with the snapper 4-ways – one regular snapper, one that had been fed green tea, another that was fed oranges, and the last one was a marinated spicy version.  I liked the marinated the best. 

Lance ordered a local beer and I had the Fuku-mule, their take on a Moscow mule, but with sake.  I’ve only had sake one other time and wasn’t a fan, but thought I’d give it a try.  I still wasn’t really into it…must be an acquired taste. 

After that we had miso soups, which were the best I’ve had.  They cook it with bacon and cabbage so it’s very flavorful.  They actually mistakenly brought us out another pair of soups, so we passed them on to our neighbors at the bar since we had already each had a whole soup. 

Next we had the ebi combo tempura which came with shrimp, salmon, and oba.  I wish it was a bigger portion because I really liked it – you only got one bite of each. 

We finished with a more traditional tuna roll wrapped in rice chicken gizzards, and chicken wings.  I wouldn’t have ordered gizzards, but I’ll try anything one.  A bit chewy – but Lance liked them.  The wings were incredible though – they were rubbed with spices and had nice crispy skin. 

That night we headed to Lambert’s for live music – part of Free Week (10 days of live free music & performances).  A band called the Shivery Shakes were playing that evening, so we thought we’d check them out.  It didn’t start until 10pm, so we had s’mores bread pudding while we waited to head to the bar upstairs.  I was already full from dinner, so it was a little dense for me, but tasty. 

The music started a lot later than we expected so we didn’t get to stay late enough to see the Shivery Shakes which was more my style of music – we saw an opening band called Mean Jolene.  They were good, but most of the songs sounded pretty much the same to us, and we were pretty exhausted by the time their set was over.  I don’t do well staying up late anymore…actually I’ve never been a late night person.  Now that I have to get up so early for work, I’m usually in bed by 10:30pm. 

After some Trader Joe’s granola & yogurt the next breakfast, we drove about 40 minutes outside of Austin to Hamilton Pool Preserve, where there’s a natural swimming hole with a 50-foot waterfall!  Of course it was much too cold to swim in January, but this was one of my favorite things we did on this trip.  The drive wasn’t bad at all and the hike around the pool is really scenic.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

We spent the whole day out in nature, next taking in a view of the river from the top of Mount Bonnell, then visiting all the peacocks at Mayfield Park

Austin is also known for their barbeque, so we went to the best-known place in town, Franklin’s, for a late lunch.  We had read online that there is usually several hours wait for their food, but we figured we’d stop by to see how busy it looked.  I think since it was past the normal lunch hour, we lucked out!  There was only a 30-minute wait! 


The line went by quickly and we even saw a picture of Lance’s man-crush, Harrison Ford, on the wall (he was on the cover of a magazine that had a write-up about the restaurant…) 

We ordered the brisket, sausage, and baked pinto beans.  And after hearing a woman in line talk about how much she loved their pies, we decided to take a bourbon banana pie to go. 

The food was pretty greasy but delicious.  The brisket was my favorite – you didn’t even need a knife.  We were going to just take a small taste of the pie and bring the rest home, but we ended up finishing it & bringing home some of the meat instead (in our defense it was a small pie…about the same amount as a single slice, but served in an individual round graham-cracker crust…) And we timed it perfectly because when we were leaving, they had put a “sold out” sign on the door. 

Next, we visited Hope Outdoor Gallery, which is made up of multiple levels of walls coated with layers and layers of graffiti.  Some was done by serious artists, but anyone could add their own layer to it (unlike the Wynwood area of Miami we had visited last year where it was all clearly done by professionals…)  We found paint cans on the ground & added to the layers. 

It seems like all our vacations now revolve around food and beer.  We really don’t drink much on a regular basis, but we always want to try out local beers wherever we go.  Lance should have his own beer blog, but he thinks it would be too much work, so it all ends up on my food blog.  So next we stopped at Austin Beer Garden Brewing (or ABGB), which was recommend to us by the guy who rented us the bikes the day before.  It had a nice outdoor area with picnic tables, but it was so cold outside, we found seats indoors. 

They serve pizza, but of course we were still full from our BBQ.  It would be a nice laid-back place to meet up with friends.  They didn’t have the same rule as the other breweries about selling you their glasses (maybe because they were a full-scale restaurant and not just a tap-room…) I liked the Road Trip Saison best. 

On the way back to the hotel we wandered some neighborhoods with really cool modern homes.  I’m a bit jealous that so many people seem to appreciate modern design in Austin.  Tampa does have a handful of homes like this, but it’s pretty rare.  It seems like every street in Austin has a couple modern style – and even the more traditional homes have modern elements to them. 

That evening and finished our BBQ leftovers while watching the Steeler’s game (they won! Lance was happy…)

Our final day we walked around the capital building and checked out the campus at the University of Texas.  Since we didn’t get the chance to eat at the under-construction Torchy’s Tacos the first day, we went to their food truck for our last lunch in Austin.  Food trucks are a big thing in that city – South Congress Ave is lined with them.  Most of them seem like they are permanent fixtures though.  The Torchy’s Taco truck was parked at an area called Trailer Park Eatery. 

The problem I’ve had with food trucks is that it seems like they always run out of food and there is such a long wait.  This wasn’t an issue at Torchy’s.  Since it seems to permanently be stationed there, they had plenty of ingredients and were well-organized. 

We started off with guac and chips – which was a really generous portion with nice big chunks of avocado.  We also got a side of the street corn – fresh roasted off-the-cob with ancho aioli, queso fresco, cilantro, and New Mexico red chile powder.  It was a spicy, but in a good way. 

I ordered the Brushfire taco with Jamaican jerk chicken, jalapeños, mango, and sour cream.  Lance had a beef barbacoa taco along with a fried chicken taco with queso. I can see why they have a larger brick-and-mortar restaurant being built because their tacos were great and their food truck was busy! 

The last place we stopped before heading to the airport was Lick Honest Ice Cream.  They pride themselves on having no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives, and no high fructose corn syrup.  The milk comes from a local Texas dairy farm their spoons and cups are all compostable.  I love how everywhere in Austin seems to be environmentally-conscious. 

Lick has all sorts of crazy concoctions of flavors – some of the ones I sampled were goat cheese/thyme/honey, plum jam/gin cake, and roasted beets/fresh mint.  They were all surprisingly tasty – and none of them were ingredients I’d normally associate with ice cream.  I ended up getting scoops of the coconut chia chai and the candied pecan with bourbon.  Lance had the caramel salt lick and the chocolate peanut butter brownie.  The scoops were pretty small but it was perfect since we were really still full from lunch earlier and were just using the “but we’re on vacation” excuse to indulge and get some ice cream.  I wish we had this place locally – although the Revolution Ice Cream in Brandon does come up with some pretty unique flavors as well. 

We really enjoyed our trip eating around Austin.  If I were to leave Florida I would happily live there (but I love Florida too much, so I’ll just have to go back and visit!)