Friday, November 28, 2014

Eggnog Cheesecake Cupcakes: The perfect Holiday dessert.

Ah, the holiday season.  A time for family, friends, parties, shopping…and FOOD.
In all truth and honesty, I’m not a huge fan of the holiday season anymore.  As I get older, I feel the need less and less to have one or two days out of 365 set aside to give thanks.  I try to practice gratitude every day.  For other personal reasons as well, I’m just not a big fan, but that has nothing to do with this blog entry.

What I DO love about the holidays is the food.  Turkey, dressing, veggies, even eggnog is starting to have more popularity in my house these days.  But what I really love: desserts. 
I've always had a sweet tooth, and over the last few years, I've started becoming a bit of a baker, making cakes, brownies, and cheesecakes.

A friend of mine posted something about a month ago about having an eggnog latte, and that made me think: HMM.  I bet an eggnog cheesecake would be AMAZING.  I did some research and found a recipe online for a cheesecake with a gingersnap crust…but the cheesecake part of the recipe just sounded a little…too sweet. 
I continued my search and found another recipe for eggnog cheesecake cupcakes, and decided to combine the two.  (You can read the original recipe here, but I’m going to put my changes to the recipe in the blog entry: )
The following is the combination of the two recipes with a couple of small changes that I made to make this recipe my own.  These directions yield about 17 cupcakes...if you double the recipe, you’ll get at least 24, and a small bread tin’s worth of cheesecake. 

24-30 ginger snap cookies, crushed/pulverized. (Putting the cookies in a zip lock bag or two, using a mallet worked for me, since I’m not fancy and don’t have a food processor or anything like that…also the number of cookies isn't exact because after counting out 24, I grabbed another handful, just to make sure I had enough.)
6 Tbsp. of melted butter (or more to texture.  The crust shouldn't be super wet, but you want it to hold together a little)
2 Tbsp. of sugar
Cheesecake mix:
2 (8 oz. pkgs) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg, plus more for garnish if desired
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract with rum
1/2 cup eggnog
Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees. 
In a large bowl, mix the cookies, sugar and butter together until the cookie dust/crumbs are covered in butter, but not super wet…this isn't going to look like a cake batter, just like moistened cookies.
Line your muffin tin with cupcake liners, and put about a tablespoon of the cookie mixture in each liner.  You want the bottom to be covered and even, but not an overwhelming amount of crust.  I’d estimate about ¼ of an inch. 
Bake for 5 minutes, then remove to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and nutmeg until mixed.
Add in the cream cheese, 8 oz. at a time, mixing until smooth. (I used the first setting on my Kitchen Aid mixer for this process.
Add in the eggs one at a time, making sure that they are mixed in well.
Then add in the vanilla extract.
**My change:  I am fortunate enough to have a friend who makes his own vanilla extracts at home, and had a vanilla extract WITH rum in it.  If you can find something similar, I’d recommend it. (Or email me, I’ll find out if he might be willing to sell some to you.)  Otherwise, follow the original recipe (link above) for the measurements for adding in the vanilla and rum extracts separately.
Finally, add in the ½ cup of eggnog.
Continue mixing until the batter is nice and smooth.
Tap the bowl against the counter to remove any extra air bubbles, and divide the batter equally among the cupcake liners over the crust.  A ¼ cup measuring cup works nicely, and is the perfect amount. 
Bake at 325 degrees for 20-23 minutes, until there isn't much of a “jiggle” in the cupcakes. 
To finish, I sprinkled a touch of nutmeg on top of the cupcakes after they came out of the oven.
Allow to cool for one hour, and then cover and put in the fridge.  They should chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
A warning:  These cupcakes are SO good, your friends and family that don’t care for cheesecake will probably like them.  I received kisses, proposals, and declarations of undying love after serving these at a work potluck, and at Thanksgiving dinner with a friend last night.  My fella hates eggnog, and he loves these.
I hope that making these little “personal cheesecakes” is as fun an experience for you as it was for me.  I found yesterday that the experience was made much better by prepping and baking with a raging fire in the fireplace, and a nice cup of gingerbread tea (with a little splash of eggnog and rum in it).  Whatever you celebrate this time of year, may your winter season be full of love, and amazing food. 

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Adventures in Cooking 2: A Valentine's Day Feast!

My boyfriend is not a big Holiday person…he doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and is really not big on Valentine’s Day.

I’m usually not really big on V-Day myself, but as this was our second February 14th together as a couple, I decided to do something nice for him.

I decided to cook.

Luckily for me, there were no whole chickens, so I knew there would be no panic attacks this time around.
I decided to go with a recipe that I’d had success with in the past, a baked almond chicken, served over pasta with a cream sauce.

Here’s a link to the recipe, if you all would like to try it yourselves.  

**Tips!!  To make six chicken breasts, I find it best to double the amount of spices that you use…I used these exact measurements and had just enough for 3 medium sized chicken breasts.  Also, I will pour more whipping cream in, to almost cover the chicken, when its time for the bread crumbs.  This makes sure there is enough sauce.**

I love making this recipe, for two reasons:
1. Using the heavy whipping cream as a sauce, while not the most healthy idea, ensures that the chicken breast is SO moist!
2. Its easy AND delicious.  

Really, this recipe is one that I tried when I was about 18 or 19 years old.  At that point in my life, I’d never made anything more complicated than Velveeta Shells and Cheese.  This recipe is super easy to follow, and has turned out great every time I’ve made it.

Dinner was in the oven, which gave us time for cocktails and a chat with our roommates, and our roommate’s mom, who was in town.  She took a picture of me, looking all cute in my apron and sassy red heels, being “domestic” for my man.  (It doesn’t happen often, so a picture was required.)

When dinner was ready, it was a big hit.  He loved it!  There is nothing better to someone who is not the most confident cook than hearing that what you’ve made is good.  

This dish is quickly becoming a standby for me.  Its quick and easy, and delicious every single time I make it.  
I was very pleased with this second attempt at a “more complicated” meal.   

Stay tuned!  I know I haven’t updated in some time, but I plan to attempt a recipe from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” next!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Restaurant Review: Gordon Ramsay Steak at the Paris Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas

I have never anticipated a dining experience the way I anticipated this one.
Stick with me, this review is going to be REALLY long, but it will be full of good details. 
We got to the restaurant at 7:30, and were shown to the bar and told that someone would come get us when our table was ready.  Our reservation was for 8:00 pm.  
We ordered our drinks:  An English Garden, An English Side Car, an Arrogant Bastard beer, and a glass of the Cote-du-Rhone Villages red wine.  Each drink was unique, and delicious.

After sitting for maybe 10-15 minutes, we were shown to our table, 15 minutes before our reservation time.  
I could not have DREAMED of having a better table. We were seated right next to the pass, so we were able to see some of the food being prepared, and got to see Christina herself (Hell's Kitchen season 10 winner, and head chef) not even five feet from our table. 

Our servers were Mike and Sergio.  Both of these gentlemen were amazing, and very friendly.
Mike was well spoken, and extremely knowledgeable .  He offered several recommendations, and took notice when our drinks were getting close to empty.  He was upbeat, personable, and amazing.
I have NEVER in all of my dining out experiences had a server ASK if there were any allergies at the table.  I have one, but its not a major one, and there was no avocado in anything that we ordered, but Mike wrote it down anyway, just in case.  How amazing is that?

Ok, so onto the food!!!

The bread plate:  I should have taken notes on what each different bread was, because they were all delicious.  I had a feeling just from the bread that the food was going to be incredible.  I was right. 

The Shellfish Platter (2-3):
tiger prawns, king crab, oysters, clams, lobster, and seasonal shellfish served with:
champagne mignonette, citrus soy sauce,
cocktail sauce.  
We also received mussels.  
This was enough for a party of 4, since we ordered a LOT of food.
The exciting bit for me, was watching Christina herself inspect this platter before it was placed on our table.
The platter is served on a huge octopus statue (probably pewter?) that I desperately wanted to put in my purse.  The platter itself is served on an ICE SCULPTURE.  How cool is that? The food was delicious.  The champagne mignonette sauce perfectly accompanied the oysters.  The prawns were HUGE!  I personally didn't have the lobster, I opted for extra oysters, which were AWESOME.  Everything, really, was perfect.

The Fois Gras: 
served with hearts of palm purée, pumpkin waffle,
bourbon maple glaze, fines herbs.  
For the complete experience, you MUST MUST MUST eat ALL THE COMPONANTS TOGETHER!
That being said, I'm not a fan of pumpkin anything.  Never really have been.  This. Was. Phenomenal.  The fois gras just melted in your mouth, and all the componants on the fork, every flavor just popped.  It was an explosion of deliciousness.  

The British Ale Onion Soup:
Boddington's pub ale, caramelized onion broth,
Welsh rarebit. 
Oh. My. God. 
I love French onion soup, so I knew I'd at least like this.  The broth was so full of flavor.  Its the first time I've ever used a knife with my soup, to cut the Welsh rarebit.  It was delightful.

The English Chowder: 
smoked haddock, scallops, fingerling medallions,
citrus pearls.
The presentation alone on this soup was amazing...the bowls were brought out with only the haddock, scallops, and medalions, then the chowder was poured in AT THE TABLE!  How cool!  I absolutely loved that.
I had a bite of it, and the chowder was incredible...the scallop just melted.  Delicious. I feel that this was the superior soup, although the Ale soup was absolutely wonderful, and I enjoyed EVERY bite. :)

And now...the mains. 

I, of course, having an enormous crush on Gordon Ramsay, ordered the Beef Wellington, served with glazed root vegetables, potato purée, red wine demi-glace.  

It was perfect.  I'd actually tasted this about a year ago, when a friend brought me a leftover bite...stone cold it was good.  
But it arrived a perfect mid-rare, the pastry was was absolute perfection.  I wanted to cry it was THAT good.
The prime filet:  perfect mid-rare.  It literally melted in your mouth.  
The Ribeye:  again, perfect mid-rare.  This was a HUGE steak!  It was delicious and seasoned to perfection.
The American Wagyu Rib Cap: My favorite steak of the night.  This one actually beat out the Wellington for me, as much as I loved and devoured my Wellington.  One bite, and there was just an EXPLOSION of flavor.  Perfectly seasoned.  This steak was just a touch under done.  We had ordered it mid-rare, and it was just a touch on the rare side, but that was fine with all of us.  We like rare to mid, and it didn't take away from the flavor of the steak.  

Sides:  we had the truffle mac and cheese, which has ruined me.  I will never be able to enjoy a plain  mac n cheese without longing for this.  I'm really picky about my mac n cheese, but this was a triumph.  I want to go back just for this!  The sauteed mushrooms were delightful as well.  

Finally, we had the sticky toffee pudding with brown butter ice cream.  It was perfection! What else can I say? You MUST save a little bit of room for this.  MUST. 

All in all, this evening exceeded all of my expectations.  Gordon Ramsay, your staff did not disappoint.  Everything was delicious, and the service was second to none.  This has by far been my favorite dining experience so far.  I can't wait to go back.  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Morning thoughts on breakfast

You hear the phrase "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" all the time, all over the place.   I heard it growing up, but it was never really anything that I put much thought into.  "OK, sure.  Breakfast.  Can I have a doughnut?  Cake?  Bagel with cream cheese?"

It wasn't until I'd started doing P90X a few years back, that I realized how important breakfast really is.

For me, when I eat breakfast...and specifically, when I eat a healthier breakfast like a homemade egg sandwich, or hardboiled eggs and a small slice of olive loaf, I feel better all day.  My brain isn't as tired, and I don't yawn nearly as much as when I don't eat breakfast, or if I get something unhealthy, like a doughnut or a brownie.

Yes, I still eat brownies for breakfast on occasion.  What adult doesn't indulge in a childhood fantasy every now and then?

Anyway, eating breakfast really seems to kick start my metabolism.  I've noticed that when I wake up, and eat something within the first hour that I'm awake, I will find myself feeling hungry a lot sooner than if I don't eat anything.

That confused me for a while, but then I realized that my body has fuel, so its able to start working harder, and sooner than if I wait 3-4 hours into being awake to eat.

It really is very important to eat breakfast, especially for those of us who want to lose weight...Eat something healthy, early in the morning, and then eat small frequent, healthy meals throughout the day.

You'd be surprised just how much that alone can help.

The key though, is to make good choices.  I know how tempting it is to swing through Starbucks for a gigantic iced coffee with more syrups and creme than coffee, and to just grab a big apple fritter, or one of the amazing double chocolate brownies.  Trust me.  That's my favorite.  Or stopping in to Einstein Brothers for an everything bagel with tons of cream cheese...I'm drooling just thinking about that.

But if you make a healthier choice, like eating at home and making your own egg mcmuffins, or getting the egg white and spinach sandwich at Einsteins, it will not only start your day out right, but you will feel better too.

Right now, I'm sitting in my fireplace room at home, with my roommate and two dogs, drinking a cup of coffee from my french press, thinking about if I want to scramble or fry my egg for my sandwich.  I have the option to drive over to Dunkin Donuts, which sounds REALLY good, and would take a lot less effort.

However, I've decided that I'm going to make the healthier choice, not to mention the cheaper choice, and make my own healthier breakfast here.  Not only will it make me feel better than a doughnut would, but I'll also be continuing my quest to become a more accomplished cook.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A new leaf...thoughts about Veggies

The older I get, the more I realize that I REALLY need to start taking better care of myself.
I think back to about 4 years ago, when i was doing P90X with my 2 best friends, and we were eating healthy and exercising every day.  I had such a hard time finishing all the food I was required to eat, and yet I was at my lowest weight, and more toned and fit than I'd ever been in my life.

My dancing was taking off, as I was feeling far more confident in myself, given my new body.

After my surgeries, the weight crept back on.  Its really not surprising...I wasn't able to exercise anymore without being in pain...even now, 3 years later, I still have some residual pain when I work out.

The main thing that was missing though, was healthy food.

I'd down whole boxes of mac n cheese a couple times a week, I'd eat Del Taco every week...especially when I started hosting karaoke...when you finish a gig at 2 am, and you're starving...Taco Bell and Del Taco are ALWAYS good ideas.

I'm prepping to start a serious workout regimen next week.  My roommate and I are starting P90X again.  Why not, right?  It worked SO well the last time!

The last few weeks, I've made a conscious effort to eat fact, I had fast food on Friday night, and it was the first time in over a month.

My best friend/roommate has been making fresh spring rolls for me to take for lunch.  I get 2-3 a day.

I'll start my day off with eggs and bacon, sometimes on a bagel.  Then a couple hours later, I'll have a spring roll made with spicy chicken, Napa cabbage, bean sprouts, celery, green onions, and kale.  I'll have the other one or two a few hours later for lunch, and then have a healthy dinner.

I was really missing veggies.  Like...REALLY missing veggies.
I love kale SO favorite part of the day is eating those spring rolls.

I've decided that this weekend, I'm going to pick up some more kale at the Mexican market (things are SO inexpensive there...if you have one, I recommend it.)  and I'm going to attempt to make my own homemade kale chips.

The thing is, that vegetables are such an important part of everyone's diet, and so many times we either forget all about them, or we drown them in butter and cheese so much that we lose the amazing flavor that they hold.

Since I've stopped eating fast food so often, I've been eating more kale, collard greens, zucchini, potatoes (baked into chips/crisps), asparagus...all these wonderful veggies that I'd been  missing out on in favor of my precious crunchtada, or value bean and cheese burrito.

I've noticed since I've started eating more of these beautiful vegetables that I have more energy during the day.  Energy that surprisingly seems to go away if I buy myself a bag of potato chips.

When P90X starts up full swing for me, I know that it will be easier for me to get all of my veggies  in now.  There are just SO many more options for me now that I have a more open mind.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Roasted Chicken induced panic attack, and other fun new Thanksgiving traditions

Yesterday was my very first time cooking an entire Thanksgiving meal.

Thank goodness my roommate and I decided to go non-traditional...

For dinner, we decided that I would make a roasted chicken, with sage dressing and pan seared asparagus.  Nothing too fancy, or too difficult, since it was to be my first time really cooking a complete meal like this.

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I searched the web for recipes that were "easy."  I might be a huge fan of Gordon Ramsay, but I'm not delusional enough to think that my first attempt would be a walk in the park, nor would it be a gourmet's delight.

I found a great recipe for a slow roasted chicken, with very little prep work, and a cook time of 3-4 hours at 275 degrees.  

I also found a crock-pot dressing recipe, and a super simple pan seared garlic asparagus recipe.  I was all set!

Yesterday, I got up about 9:00 A.M. to prep and bake my pecan pie.  All was fine until my oven turned off in the middle of the baking process.
This, sadly, is nothing new, as we've been trying for over a year to get the landlady to fix or replace the oven, but it had been working fine for a couple months...

So, an hour and 20 minutes later, the pie smelled and looked done, so I pulled it out and killed a couple hours before I had to get the chicken ready.

I've made chicken before...baked and grilled chicken breast, stir fry, etc.  I've never worked with a whole bird before though...I should have known it was going to creep me out a little...feeling the flesh over the bones...I rinsed it out really good, but it still just didn't look...right.  In the cavity.  And for some reason, I just could not convince myself that sticking my hand in the cavity to clean it out completely was an acceptable thing to do to this poor bird.

And I cried.  I cried and hyperventilated and had a full blown panic attack for the first time in my 33 years on this planet.  Over cleaning a whole chicken.  I've had 4 surgeries and never panicked this much.  How embarrassing.

I freaked out, and cried to my other two roommates that I never should have decided to do this, and how the hell was I supposed to cook a chicken if I can't clean it properly?

Well lucky for me, the two roommates that were home came to my rescue.   Hugs and calming down assistance from one, while the other cleaned the bird for me.  

Deep breath, and I was better.  For some reason, stuffing the bird full of garlic cloves, onions and lemons was better than actually putting my hand in there.  I was able to do that, and give the bird a nice little salt/pepper and thyme massage....but I did NOT go under the skin to massage the breast.  First date and all.

Once the bird was in the oven, I had another hour to relax, so I sat down with a cup of tea while I tried to continue calming myself down.  I tend to be a little on the emotional side anyway, so I knew I couldn't cook properly if I was still freaking out.

When it was time to work on the dressing I felt calm, and much better.
I chopped the onion and the celery, and broke up some pecans, mixed everything together and threw it in the crock-pot.  I was concerned about it getting really soggy, so I only did 1 1/4 cups of chicken stock...its what the recipe called for, even though the box said 2 cups.

The last thing I had to prepare was the asparagus, which I've made a lot in the past, but its been a couple years...this was by far the easiest, and I think the tastiest dish of the night.  

When my roommate got home from work, everything had just finished, so I served dinner.

The chicken was beautiful.  It was moist, flavorful and juicy.  The dressing was good, but needed salt, and was a little dry.  Next time I will use the 2 cups of stock.

The asparagus was garlicky, tender but crisp, and seared beautifully.

The biggest disappointment of the night was the pie.  Because of the oven malfunction, the pie was a little scorched on top and raw in the middle and on the bottom.  I was really mad...and really disappointed too.  I bake all the time, and I've made dozens of pecan pies, and have NEVER had anything go that badly before.  So, that was a sad moment for me.

All in all though, I was pleased with the way things turned out.  For a first time making a big meal it definitely could have been worse!  

I look forward to trying this meal again in the future, to see how I can improve.  Hopefully no panic attacks next time.