Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Italy vs. France in a food showdown...who wins?

My hubby and I just returned from a 10 day adventure to Italy and France.  I had traveled to Portugal when I was a kid, but haven't been back to Europe since then.  Andrew had never been to Europe.  So this was a real experience for us, totally put us out of our element being in a country where we didn't speak the language.

These are some things that I learned from our trip:

1)  Have comfortable walking shoes - this is a must...and find them many weeks before you leave for your trip, not the day before.

2)  Travel light.  We really tried to pack light, but as we went from place to place we kept acquiring more stuff and our bags expanded.  We were going in and out of airports, subways, trains and buses a lot - which was difficult with heavy bags.  I think I wore everything I packed, but we had access to laundry throughout the trip - so in retrospect I would have packed even lighter.

3)  Learn a few key words from each language of the country you are travelling to..such as: Please, thank you, water, bathroom, yes, no, etc...

4)  Pace yourself.  We tended to overbook our days, and by then end of the day we would almost collapse out of exhaustion.  Oy.

5)  Bathrooms are really hard to find in Italy and France. There aren't really any public ones, and most of the time you have to eat or drink somewhere to be able to use their bathrooms...ended up paying $6 one time for one coffee just so we could use their bathroom.

6)  Look up the customs and etiquette of the country you are travelling to.  Do you tip at restaurants?  Learn the basics of the menus and courses they typically serve.  For example, in France a lot of the restaurants had price fix menus with 3-5 courses.  Also, most restaurants in Italy didn't open for dinner until after 7:30pm.

Okay - let's start out with the most important thing from our trip - the FOOD!


We stayed at an apartment in Trastevere  that we found on airbnb.  The place was great, hosts were awesome and gave us lots of information before our trip, and we recommend it to anyone travelling to Rome.  My sister lived in Rome during college for a semester and suggested this part of town as a good place to stay.  She was right.  It was set apart from the hustle and bustle of the city, but still in walking distance to all the big tourist sights, plus there were lots of cute restaurants nearby, and tons of Churches.

L'Antica Salumeria, Rome

We stopped by this place that is located in the piazza that the Pantheon is in.  Got these yummy chewy cookies that were rolled in pine nuts.

Mama Ristobistro, Vatican area

We ate lunch at this little cafe near the Vatican.  It was clean, service was great, and the food was fresh.  We had zucchini and eggplant fritters, and then a shrimp, vegetable and couscous dish.  Pretty good!

Hostaria Luce, Trastevere

This was by far our most favorite restaurant in Italy!  We stumbled upon it after trying to get into 2 other restaurants that had good reviews online, only to be turned away since we didn't have a reservation.  We were tired and so hungry, and then we found this little gem.  They had a real lemon tree with lemons on it in front of the place so we decided to give it a try.  The owners and hosts were so gracious and kind to our weary souls, and they made us feel most welcome.  The took the time to explain some things on the menu and tell us about their specials.  The owner was a legit old Italian guy that was so happy and kind, and made us feel right at home.

They served us fresh bread with this yummy whipped ricotta topped with some sort of artichoke mousse - delicious! 
 Fresh greens and fruit salad - simple, but so fresh!  The owner said they got most of the veggies from their farm that very morning.
 Boiled broccoli, romanesco broccoli and cauliflower
 Fresh pasta with a lamb ragu
 Fresh artichoke ravioli
 Baba au Rhum cake - amazing!
 La Torta “Caprese” cake - chocolate and almond - scrumptious!
 A welcome sight to weary travelers!

Vechchio Forno, Florence

This was the best bakery we found during our time in Italy.  We went there twice in the 2 days we were in Florence.  Cute little place with sweet ladies working there, always a line, but worth it!

 Some kind of Spinach and ricotta pastry - so flaky and simple, but really good!
 Pan au chocolate - again, he really stuck to getting the same thing everywhere : )
Super moist carrot bread, eating on the steps of the San Lorenzo market area

Borgo Antico, Florence

Our first day in Florence we happened upon the Santo Spirito market - super lucky we caught it since it only comes around once a month!  There were a bunch of cute restaurants in that piazza, so we returned the next day and found this place.  Had some yummy pizza and a fresh shaved artichoke and Parmesan salad there.

Gelateria Carabe, Florence
I was on a mission to find a cannoli before I left Italy...they are really Sicilian, so it is not common to find them in bakeries near Rome and Florence.  The first night we passed the place right up and ended up getting sub par gelato somewhere close by.  The second night we were determined we would find the place and thanks to Andrew's navigation skills we found it!!!  Totally worth the search, added bonus their gelato was the best we had!  The cannoli was so delicious and fresh!  The key to finding a good cannoli is to find a place where they fill the cannoli after you order it, otherwise the shell can get soggy.  If you are in Florence seek this place out and thank me later.

That's about it for Italy Folks!  This post has gotten too long, so I am going to talk about the Food in France in a separate post soon to come...stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Homemade Almond Milk and Peach Cobbler Smoothie

We just returned from a 10 day trip to Europe...such a whirlwind!

My body is really hating me right now after I forced as many Italian pizzas, gelato, and French pastry and baguettes as I possibly could into tummy hurts.

I am glad to be home and to be getting back on track with eating healthy and my workouts.

Woke up this morning with a jet lag headache, pushed through a 30 minute workout - I felt like my body was full of lead - so hard to move!  Then I made this nice light smoothie for breakfast - such a nice change after eating straight up bread and pastry for breakfast every morning for the last 10 days. 

 I am craving fruits and vegetables - someone find me a garden!

I usually make my peanut butter banana smoothie with cacao a lot during the warm months, but I am getting a little weary of that recipe - so onto some new ones!  I have also been making my own almond or nut milks recently - so delicious and easy!  I have also done this with pecans and it was delicious!  Then I tried cashew milk, which is essentially the same recipe you just don't have to strain it.  So good!  You can basically make a milk out of any nut or seed!  Hemp seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, walnuts, go to town!!! 

Homemade Almond Milk

There are many recipes for homemade almond milk out on the web - play around with the recipe and find out what taste you prefer.  I don't like sweet almond milk, but if you do add a little bit of honey, maple syrup, or a pitted date to your milk and blend.
Soak one cup of almonds in a bowl covered with water for at least 6 hours, overnight, or up to 2 days. 

Drain and rinse the almonds thoroughly after soaking.  
Place almonds back in blender and add 5 cups cold filtered water, a pinch of salt, and a splash of vanilla.  
Blend until frothy and almonds are well ground.  
Pour almond milk through a strainer.  If you have a cheese cloth you can strain this even better - I tried a cheese cloth, but it fell apart, so I am order a nut milk strainer bag - I will let you know how that works out.  Don't throw away the pulp leftover from straining the milk!  You can add it to smoothies, dry it out in the oven to make almond flour, or add it to baked goods.
Voila!  Homemade almond milk!  Most recipes call for 2.5-4 cups of water, but I found the milk to thick, so I upped my water to 5 cups - better consistency for me and gives me more almond milk in the end!

Peach Cobbler Smoothie
makes one large smoothie

1 cup homemade almond milk (or store bought works too!)
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 cup frozen peaches (or fresh if you have them)
2 TBSP Old fashioned oats
1 tsp chia seeds (optional - can also use flax seed if you want)
1-2 tsp. honey (depending upon how sweet you want it)
1 tsp almond pulp from making almond milk, or a few whole almonds if you have them

Blend until smooth and combined.  If it is too thick for you add more almond milk, if it is too thin add some ice cubes and blend.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Veggie Quiche with no cheese or milk!

I am having a hard time staying indoors today.

The sun is finally shining and it is 65 degrees outside.

The birds are chirping and the green things are starting to wake up from their hibernation.

This can only mean one is time to increase my workouts and decrease my sweets intake!  : )

Spring, the sweet spring

                                                                   BY THOMAS NASHE
Spring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
      Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!
            Spring, the sweet spring!

My coworker was nice enough to get me some farm fresh eggs from her neighbor.  Yum.  So lovely.  I decided it was time to try and make a quiche that my husband could eat - no milk and no cheese.  He is lactose intolerant, and I don't eat cheese or milk either since it makes me break out and feel sick : (

I had my doubts that it would taste weird and bland with out those things - but I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted.

I used my go to pie dough recipe for this, but feel free to use your favorite recipe if you have one.  This one worked well and doesn't have added sugar to it - so it works great for savory pies as well as the sweet ones.

I liked this recipe so much that I made it twice in a week!  I made it with sausage the second time, so feel free to make it with bacon or sausage as well.  The second one I made actually exploded in the oven - apparently it was a cheap glass pie pan and it shattered i guess technically I made 3 of these in a week since I had to chuck that one since I didn't want people to eat glass...oy

This is a perfect Lenten dinner!

Veggie Quiche - no cheese or milk

Crust Recipe:

This recipe makes 2 pie doughs, and the filling only makes one, so double the filling if you want 2 quiches, or freeze this extra crust for later.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
3/4 cup ice water

Make sure you work quickly when making the crust and use cold ingredients and even a chilled mixing bowl if you like.  I cheat when making crust and use my stand mixer because it speeds up the process.  In a cold mixing bowl combine flour and salt.  Stir.  With mixer running add the cold cubed butter and mix until broken into pea sized pieces.  Slowly add 1/2 cup of the ice cold water, then slowly add the additional 1/4 cup of water.  Mix just until combined and dough comes together.  If you don't have a mixer you can cut the butter into the flour/salt with a pastry blender or with 2 knives.
Place in fridge and chill for at least one hour.

On floured surface roll out the pie dough into an even circle. turning the dough and adding flour to the surface when necessary.  Quickly line a pie pan with the dough and crimp edges like you like to!

Saute the following in a large fying pan about 5-7 minutes until soft and cooked down:

1 TBS olive oil
1 onion diced
1 red or yellow bell pepper diced

Then add this and cook 1 more minute:

3 big handfuls fresh spinach

In a large bowl whisk together the following until smooth and combined:

6 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or whatever milk alternative you like...or milk if you drink it)
3 TBS flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp black pepper

Mix the egg mixture and cooked veggies together and pour into an unbaked pie shell in a pie pan.  Bake 45-50 minutes at 350 degrees until no longer jiggly in the middle.

- If you wish to add meat to this saute 1/2 # breakfast sausage or a few slices of ham or bacon, remove from pan, cook veggies in the grease and then add to quiche.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Glob Cookies


This is a rich cookie.

Not in the "drives a fancy car and wears jimmy choos" kind of way, but in the "omg the depth of flavor in this thing is off the charts" kind of way.  Rich y'all, super rich and delicious!

If you gave up sugar and sweets for Lent - forgive me, or actually - thank me, because I am helping make your sacrifice that much harder. : )  You are welcome...hum...pretty sure I have written this in a post before..deja vu moment.

I find myself uninspired to write anything witty these days.  Maybe it is because my job is insanely slow right now and I find myself starring into the deep abyss of the internet most of my day.  Or maybe it is because I haven't been on a travelling adventure in a while.  Or maybe it is because the weather here in Houston has been gloom and doom the last few weeks.  Seriously yo - I keep looking for Noah's ark to appear on the horizon soon...sooooo much rain!!!!  Hopefully when the sun decides to show up again I will become inspired to post something more than a recipe...

I'm really pulling at straws here...this is my attempt to find some creative juices again...oy...I need help!

A Museless Me
by moi

O Muse,
Where are you hidden,
My imagination seems to be bedridden,

O muse,
why can't I see your face,
I must be looking in the wrong place.

O muse,
why don't you give me the words to say,
Instead I ramble on all day.

O muse,
please come back to my mind,
I promise to treat you kind.

O muse,
save me from this empty gap of time,
give me back my wit and rhyme.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Glob Cookies
From the lovely Ina Garten

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips, divided
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 extra-large eggs
1 tablespoon instant coffee
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup whole walnut halves (not chopped)
1 cup whole pecan halves (not chopped)
2/3 cup peanut butter chips, such as Reese's

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a few sheet pans with parchment paper.

In a bowl set over simmering water, melt the butter, 6 ounces of the chocolate chips, and the unsweetened chocolate, stirring occasionally, until just melted. Remove from the heat and cool for 15 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, espresso powder, and vanilla until combined. Add the sugar, raise the speed to medium-high, and beat for 2 minutes, until the batter is thick and falls back on itself in a ribbon. Set aside.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture. Combine the 1/3 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and fold it into the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula. In another bowl, combine the walnuts, pecans, peanut butter chips, the remaining 6 ounces of chocolate chips, and the tablespoon of flour and fold it into the chocolate mixture. With 2 soup spoons, drop rounded mounds of batter 1 inch apart onto the prepared sheet pans. Bake for 15 minutes exactly. Cool on the baking sheets.

Bake these for someone who looks like they need a hug.



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Salted Olive Oil Focaccia Bread
Soon after getting engaged we sat down and came up with a list of people we wanted to invite to the wedding.  The list was huge, over 400 people.  We kept looking at it and trying to think of ways we could cut it down.  After looking online it said most people don't invite kids to their wedding to cut down on the guest list.  We thought about it, but I honestly wanted kids at my wedding for lots of reasons.
1) I love seeing little kids dance at weddings.  They get so excited and really have fun with it!

2)  It is so nice to see all the little ones dressed up and looking fancy for weddings, all the pretty dresses and dapper little dudes makes me smile.

3)  Since so many of my cousins and friends have little ones I knew it would be hard to get babysitters since most of them would be travelling from out of town.  I didn't want them to have to RSVP no because they couldn't find child care.

4)  I really don't think cost is a good reason to not invite kids to a wedding...honestly most caterers charge less for kids, or you can even get them something less expensive to eat like pizza.  Also, most of them don't even require seats at a table, or if they do - you will have a few no shows on the wedding day who RSVP'd yes so just steal their chairs. : )

5)  The number one reason I wanted kids at our wedding is because I think it is important that kids grow up knowing what a wedding is and what the beginning of a Christian marriage looks like.  I remember going to a lot of weddings growing up and thinking how lovely the bride was, that she was for sure a princess, that she had found her prince, that it was a serious thing for them to make vows in front of people and in a Church in front of God, and that one day I wanted that too.  I remember holding my breath when the couples made their vows thinking it was such a special thing we were getting to be a part of.  I think that the more familiar kids are with marriage and weddings the more they will want it themselves if that is their vocation in life.
So for those reasons I am so happy we decided to have kiddos at our wedding!  It was so much fun dancing with them, laughing with them, and seeing them be a part of the beginning of our married lives together.  Kids are truly a gift and we were blessed to have all of those smiling gifts at our wedding!
Now...a recipe!  I have been in this crazy making soups and stews mode, and always want a nice crusty bread to serve with them.  Unfortunately, I am cursed when it comes to making bread...then I made this bread!  So easy and delicious!  My niece and I spent an evening cooking a nice dinner, and this was the star of the show for us!  It came together pretty easily, just remember that it requires 2 rises - so give yourself the time to make it.

Foccacia Bread
From Anne Burrell on Food Network (if you click on the link there is a quick video showing you how to make the bread - very helpful to watch before you start)

1 3/4 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 TBS Sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 TBS Kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Put the bowl in a warm, not hot or cool, place until the yeast is bubbling and aromatic, at least 15 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and the yeast mixture on low speed. Once the dough has come together, continue to knead for 5 to 6 minutes on a medium speed until it becomes smooth and soft. Give it a sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky and tacky.

Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured surface, then knead it by hand 1 or 2 times. Again, give it another sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky and tacky.

Coat the inside of the mixer bowl lightly with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour.

Coat a jelly roll pan with the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. (Chef's Note: This may seem excessive, but focaccia is an oily crusted bread. This is why it is soooooooooo delicious!).

Put the dough onto the jelly roll pan and begin pressing it out to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. As you are doing so, spread your fingers out and make finger holes all the way through the dough. (Chef's Note: Yes, this is strange. But when the dough rises again it will create the characteristic craggy looking focaccia. If you do not make the actual holes in the dough, the finished product will be very smooth.)

Put the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising a second time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Liberally sprinkle the top of the focaccia with some coarse sea salt and lightly drizzle a little oil on top. Bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let it cool before cutting and serving.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Brown Butter Pecan Pie

We love pie.  

So much so that we had it at our wedding instead of cake.  When we first suggested that we wanted to do away with the tradition of wedding cake we were met with much resistance.  

"No cake at a wedding?"  "How can this be?" "People expect cake!"
We held our ground on this one and it paid off in the end!  We had about 40 delicious homemade pies at our wedding!  I made 20 of them and a family friend made the other 20.  Our only regret is that we didn't take a pie with us when we left the wedding!
I have tried out so many pecan pie recipes, really I have.  For a while I was on this "corn syrup free" pecan pie kick.  It is also a delicious recipe, but the consistency of the filling was just always too wet and loose.  My favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for brown butter so I figured since most pecan pie calls for melted butter it could probably be swapped with brown butter.  After some searching I found a few recipes for "Brown Butter Pecan Pie"
This pie is amazing.

The brown butter adds this extra layer of deliciousness to the pie that is unexpected and smooth.  The crust recipe is from  the cookbook "A year of pies" which I first found from my friend who made the most amazing apple pie one day which the most perfect crust imaginable.
Whenever an occasion calls for pie I make this recipe and am never disappointed!  This pie also freezes well - I know because I froze 20 of them for my wedding!  Just make sure you either a) bake it in a foil pan or b) bake it in a cake pan with straight edges and you can pop it out of the pan after it cools completely and freeze it without a pan (this is what I did - the pie ends up looking more like a tart with straight edges, but it still tastes amazing!)

My husband texted me yesterday informing me that it was "National Pie Day" today...a very subtle hint if you ask me to make him some pie.  This is what came up when I googled "National Pie Day"

"It's National Pie Day, a holiday dreamed up by the American Pie Council. The holiday encourages Americans to "pause amidst the hectic pace of everyday life and express their love, gratitude and appreciation for one another, for their blessings, and for the simple things in life." And enjoy a slice of pie of course."

What is the "American Pie Council" and how do I get into that club?

Brown Butter Pecan Pie
adapted from a bunch of recipes from the internet 

Crust: this recipe makes 2 pie doughs, and the filling only makes one, so double the filling if you want 2 pies, or freeze this extra crust for later.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
3/4 cup ice water

Make sure you work quickly when making the crust and use cold ingredients and even a chilled mixing bowl if you like.  I cheat when making crust and use my stand mixer because it speeds up the process.  In a cold mixing bowl combine flour and salt.  Stir.  With mixer running add the cold cubed butter and mix until broken into pea sized pieces.  Slowly add 1/2 cup of the ice cold water, then slowly add the additional 1/4 cup of water.  Mix just until combined and dough comes together.  If you don't have a mixer you can cut the butter into the flour/salt with a pastry blender or with 2 knives.
Place in fridge and chill for at least one hour.

On floured surface roll out the pie dough into an even circle. turning the dough and adding flour to the surface when necessary.  Quickly line a pie pan with the dough and crimp edges like you like to!


5 tablespoons unsalted butter browned
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt (not kosher)
1 1/2 cups toasted pecan halves (toast plain pecans in the oven for a few minutes)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat lightly. Add brown butter, sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt. Whisk to combine. Pour toasted pecans into prepared pie dough that is in the pan. Pour filling into prepared crust.

Bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the center is set and the crust is browned. Cool in pan before serving.