Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My First Daring Bakers Challenge!

Late last month, I decided to take the plunge and join Daring Bakers. I cook much more than I bake, so I thought this would be a great way to sharpen my baking skills. I was patiently awaiting my first challenge, then it finally arrived...Opera Cake (for the original recipe click here).

My first thought was, Opera what? I had never really heard of Opera Cake, but when I saw the pictures, of course it looked familiar. I have to admit I was a little bit intimidated, the cake looked yummy, but complicated for sure. Then I read the recipe and was even more scared, so I decided to procrastinate.

Last night, I finally decided to be brave and bake the Opera Cake. I re-read the recipe and decided to separate it into two days. Day 1 would be the Syrup (for moistening the cake), White Chocolate Mousse (the top layer), and Buttercream (the middle layers). Day 2 would be the Joconde (cake layers), Glaze (to pour over the Mousse), and Assembly.

Day 1: I was contemplating what flavor to make my cake. I love cherries and thought that would go great with vanilla and white chocolate (we could only use light colors and flavorings, no coffee or chocolate) so Cherry Vanilla it is.

White Chocolate Mousse - The Mousse was very simple. We were to add a flavoring to the Mousse so I added Kirsch (a cherry liqueur). It came out so well! I was thinking about all of the delicious things I could eat with it.

Vanilla Syrup - it was very easy, just boiling together sugar, water, and vanilla extract. This is used to moisten the cake.

The Buttercream - My last endeavor for the day...I was nervous because I had never made Buttercream with a hot sugar syrup and eggs before. I thought some catastrophe would happen, like the eggs curdling or the sugar crystallizing. Now I'm so glad I made it this way, I didn't have any problems and it had to have been the best tasting Buttercream I've made. It was super creamy and not as buttery as I thought it was going to be. I'll be following this recipe for any other Buttercream I decide to make. The flavoring of the Buttercream was vanilla, and I also sauteed some cherries with cinnamon and added them as well. Then I put all my creations in the fridge and was ready for the next day.

Day 2: Now I'm getting excited, yesterday was fun and everything tasted great. I couldn't wait to see what the final product came out like.

Joconde - We were supposed to use almond meal, but I decided to grind my own almonds. I was a little short on almonds so I threw in a little extra flour. The cake came out perfectly and tasted great.

Glaze - The glaze turned out good, perfect consistency for spreading. I had a little extra, so I put extra big spoonfuls on top of my mini Opera Cakes.

Assembly - This wasn't as bad as I thought. I used a biscuit cutter to cut circles, and spread the layers of Buttercream and Mousse on each piece. It looked good, but it did take extra time to do every individual piece. The scary part was the glaze, but that's okay if you drip some off the side...more white choclate goodness!

Baking an Opera Cake was definitely a challenge, but it was fun! I encourage everyone to try this out, it is not difficult, but it is time consuming (about 5 hours!). The final result tasted delicious. I will definitely be making this again and trying out some new flavors.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tombstone Extra Cheese Pizza

While I was grocery shopping the other day, I was suddenly craving pizza and thought I'd give one of the frozen ones a try. Tombstone was one of the cheaper ones, plus, it said "extra cheese" so I thought it couldn't be too bad. Right when I got home I put in the oven, and about 20 minutes later it was ready for me. The crust was thin and very crispy. The sauce tasted like a basic manufactured tomato sauce, which was what I was expecting anyway. The best part was all that cheese! I thought "extra cheese" was kind of an oxymoron for a frozen pizza, but they do a good job of loading it on. Overall, the pizza was good in a pinch, but I'd definitely rather go to my local pizza shop and grab a pizza there.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Alexia Sweet Potato Fries

I am obsessed with sweet potato fries, so when I saw Alexia frozen sweet potato fries in the frozen aisle at Publix, I was so excited. So I picked up the package, thinking they were going to be bad for me. But I was surprised, only 150 calories per serving and they are low in sodium.

I put a batch in the oven and couldn't wait to try them. They came out great, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I've always had a hard time making homemade sweet potato fries crispy so I'll be using these when I'm in the mood for fries. These fries taste great when you dip them in a little honey mustard. If you're a sweet potato fry freak like me, you'll love these!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Asian Peanut Chik'n Wraps

It's Thursday, the time of the week when I'm too lazy to cook "real food" (You can even see the paper plate in the pic, no dishes for me!). I was in the mood for peanut sauce. I made my own sauce, which came out pretty well. I also used one of my new favorite products, the Morningstar Chik'n Patties. You can definitely substitute real chicken for this one too. I also always have pre-shredded carrots on hand to get extra veggies into wraps and salads. This is super quick and tastes great. This recipe makes 2 wraps.

Asian Peanut Chik'n Wraps
2 Morningstar Chick'n Patties
2 whole wheat wraps (I used La Tortilla)
1 cup shredded carrots
2 tbsp peanut butter
2 tsp honey
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
few dashes dried ginger

Put Chik'n Patties in oven or microwave according to directions (oven is best). Combine the wet ingredients & ginger to make the sauce. Then, toss the carrots with about 1/3 of the peanut sauce. Spread the remaining peanut sauce in the center of the 2 wraps. Place the carrots on top. When the patties are ready, cut into fourths and place on top of the carrots. Fold together and enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Free Chicken Sandwich

Thursday was McDonald's free sandwich day. They were promoting their new Southern - Style Chicken Sandwich and Biscuit. Luckily, I forgot to bring in my lunch to work so I decided to brave the drive-thru line to taste this Chick-fil-a replica. I drove up to the menu board and placed my order for a medium soda and the chicken sandwich(you had to buy a medium or large drink to get this "free" sandwich). I was going to wait until I was at work to unveil it, but I was ravenous! I was in the parking lot and opened up the box to smell the deep fried goodness.

It looked good to me, the bun was soft and the crust looked crispy. I took my first bite and I was impressed. It was spiced well, crispy, and fairly juicy (it even had the 2 pickle slices). It tasted fresh and not like it was kept under a heat lamp all day. Overall, I have to stick with Chick-fil-a, because the chicken seems a little less processed and definitely larger in size. But the new McDonald's Southern-Style Chicken Sandwich is a great substitute in a pinch.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Double Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

Last night I was craving something with peanut butter for dessert. I rummaged around and discovered an egg and chocolate chips (but no butter) so i thought I'd just go ahead and try to make cookies. After looking at several recipes, I came up with my own. They came out good! I'm going to try to eat 1 per day so I'll put a bunch in the freezer. This recipe makes about 1 dozen cookies.

1/2 cup peanut butter (I used creamy, natural)
1 egg
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp honey
1/4 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips & flour. Stir until peanut butter is thoroughly incorporated. Then add flour until incorporated, then fold in the chocolate chips. Drop in heaping tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for about 14 - 16 minutes (until the top of the cookie looks dry). Let cool for about 10 minutes then Enjoy!

Monday, May 12, 2008

North Palm Beach: Pronti's Italian Kitchen

I love Pronti's. I have great memories of it. It's where I enjoyed my first salad... their Gorgonzola salad when I was around 12 years old. That was about 15 years ago, and Pronti's used to be packed! We always had to wait on a Friday night. It's unfortunate now that it's not very crowded. We went there last Friday and it was about 1/3 full.

We always order the same thing every time we go. Gorgonzola Salad & Pizza. The salad is great, the contents are pretty basic, lettuce, carrots, olives and tomatoes. But the dressing is the kicker, it has tons of Gorgonzola cheese so you get plenty in every bite. I really enjoy the pizza there too. Make sure to order the "New York Pounded" crust. It's not on the menu, but I think it's the best crust they have. It's thin and slightly buttery, perfect for folding (like so many New Yorkers like to do). We ordered extra cheese as a topping, and we got it! There was plenty of oozy mozzarella cheese and a perfectly balanced tomato sauce. The service is always good there too. I hope I'll be enjoying Pronti's for at least another 15 years.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Publix Greenwise Opening this Month

I was driving to the Boca Town Center Mall today during my lunch break and noticed some food trucks lingering next to the new Publix Greenwise Market they are building. It looked promising, so I drove by to see what was going on. I'm pretty sure the sign said "Grand Opening, Thursday May 24th at 7:00 AM". When I looked at my calendar, May 24th is a Saturday so I will double check tomorrow. But I'm glad it's finally opening!

I have been to the one in Palm Beach Gardens and it is great. The staff was extremely helpful. They have mostly organic, Whole Foods type of products. But the nice thing is they offer regular products as well, so you won't have to go to regular Publix to buy certain necessities. Publix Greenwise also has a great prepared food sections with soups, sandwiches, and a carvery, just to name a few. I will be sure to make it there when it opens.

**Update! It's Opening on Thursday, May 29th at 7:00 AM**

Monday, May 5, 2008


I'm not a huge veggie person, but I love a good Gazpacho. I don't usually order it when I go out to eat, because I'm not a huge cucumber fan and I think most gazpachos have an overwhelming cucumber taste. I like to make it at home so I can control the ingredients to my tastes. This is very easy to make and makes about 8 cups, so it's enough for you and your family to enjoy for a few days.

3 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers
3 cups low sodium V8
1/4 cup EVOO
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp garlic, minced

Combine all vegetables, salt, cayenne pepper, and garlic in a food processor. Process until the veggies have become very tiny (like the consistency of a finely minced garlic). Then, pour in the rest of the ingredients and process for a few seconds, just until everything is well combined. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours so the flavors meld. Serve cold. If you'd like, garnish with a dollop of sour cream.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Royal Palm Beach: The Counter

I had read about The Counter in the local newspaper. The Royal Palm Beach location is its first franchise in Florida. The atmosphere is very simple & clean, modern & retro at the same time. The focus of the menu is the build your own burger. They also have a great selection of beers. They serve wine as well. When you sit down, you get a clipboard and a pencil. The bottom of the clipboard lists all the sides like french fries & fried pickles. The paper on the clipboard lists all your build your own burger choices. The beef for their burgers comes in on the bone and is ground fresh there. Also, the veggie patties are made in house. You can have the burger with a bun, or in a "bowl" (which is basically a salad). You then pick the size of your burger, cheese, toppings, sauce and the type of bun. They have so many great options it's hard to choose. We also got an order of the Sweet Potato Fries and Onion Strings, which comes with ranch, bbq, and horseradish sauce. The fries and onion strings were delicious! They were crispy without being greasy and had great flavor. The burger also tasted great. The bun was soft, the toppings were just right, and the burger was juicy. My only complaint would be that the burger, although thick, was smaller than the bun. I would rather have a little thinner burger that was at least the same diameter of the bun. All in all, it was a great meal.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

PLEASE Don't Eat Foie Gras

There aren't too many things I won't eat. One "delicacy" I will never eat is Foie Gras. I highly encourage everyone else to do the same. Foie Gras is fatty duck liver. Basically, they have to fatten up the ducks to get their livers that way. The way they treat these ducks is HORRIBLE and CRUEL. I have a picture below of how they are force fed (there are way worse pictures, but they are too graphic). To learn more go to No Foie Gras.

The ducks are kept in tiny wire cages or packed into sheds. Pipes are repeatedly shoved down their throats, and up to 4 pounds of grain and fat are pumped into their stomachs two or three times every day. The pipes puncture many birds' throats, sometimes causing the animals to bleed to death. This inhumane procedure causes their livers to become diseased and swell to up to 10 times their normal size. Many birds become too sick to stand up.