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Archive for March, 2009

Strawberry Blondies

 This weekend I worked waaayyy too much.  Oh well, sometimes that happens. After finally taking a break on Sunday to hit the gym and hit the grocery, I decided to bake something that would keep my sweet tooth satisfied this week. I typically enjoy having a granola bar or some graham crackers as a mid-morning snack. Recently, I have been trying to tap into my own skills to create these treats rather than buy prepackaged from the store. I am not sure my treats are the healthiest things ever, but at least I know what is going in to them.

And so, I present this week’s tasty endeavor:  

Strawberry Blondies

(Hmmm, doesn’t that just sound cool? Far better than brunetties, for sure.)

Base recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 cups Everyday Baking Mix*, spooned and leveled (1 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt)
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
  • 4-5 fresh strawberries, sliced**

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-inch square baking pan with butter. Line bottom and two sides with a strip of parchment paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on both sides. Butter paper, and set pan aside.

2) Using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, and beat until combined. With mixer on low, gradually add Baking Mix; mix just until combined. Mix in 3/4 cup oats. Pour batter into prepared pan.

4) Using an offset metal spatula or table knife, smooth 1/2 of batter evenly in pan. Place sliced strawberries evenly on top of batter. Cover strawberry layer with remaining batter***. Sprinkle with remaining oats, pressing gently to adhere. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35**** minutes. Let cool in pan 30 minutes.

5) Using overhang, transfer blondie (still on paper) to a wire rack to cool completely. Place on a cutting board (peel off paper); using a serrated knife, cut into 16 squares. Store blondies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.

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Strawberry Blondies on my counter

Some notes:

*The Martha recipe refers to this ‘Baking Mix’. Apparently this recipe was part of a trio of recipes where you make a basic mix and use it for different items, such as pancakes, etc. Its a nice idea but I didn’t need a bunch of baking mix so I broke down the amounts needed for this recipe.

**The original recipe did not include strawberries. This was my add in since they were on sale this week.

***Woah baby, this was like dough, not batter. I really had a tough time putting the second ‘layer’ of batter over the strawberries. I just had to kind of drop globs of it on and hope for the best.

****These things were barely cooked through at 35 minutes. Now, my oven could very well be going crazy (note: get oven thermometer very soon). Also, the moisture from the fresh strawberries could have contributed to this. I probably ended up baking close to 50 minutes.

Some side notes:

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Strawberry Blondies on a human

 

The verdict:  Mmm, tasty. Now, mine did not cut quite as nicely as Ms. Martha’s  (see photo in recipe link). The edges kind of puffed on mine and the whole thing is a bit crumbly. However, brownies/blondies always seem difficult to cut. And the strawberries could have contributed to this.  I also likely could have cut down on the sugar a bit – they are pretty sweet. I don’t know if I would make this exact recipe again but I would be up for more blondie experimentation.

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Jonesing for Ginger

It is brutal and unfair that every day at work I must stare down upon the college campus where I spent 4 lovely, blissful, alcohol fueled years.

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Sigh. It actually looks quite drab but was truly a blast compared to working on a Saturday.

Speaking of alcohol, I am dying to try this with a litttle (lot) of vodka or tequila:

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“…with the soul of fresh pressed ginger…”

I am on a huge ginger kick right now.  I happily chomp down on super spicy ginger candies daily. No luck finding this yet in the crappy PA state stores or any grocery stores but maybe someday…

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Twilight

So, I have been ‘sucked’ in.

I actually purchased ‘Twilight’ about a year ago in the Atlanta airport (I think – it was definitely an airport).  I had no idea what it was but the cover caught my eye.

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I read about half of it and couldn’t get into it. I realized I had purchased somewhat of a ‘young adult’ book. Blah. I thought it was going to be a bit darker. It was tossed somewhere in my apartment and forgotten.

Shortly thereafter, I heard about ‘Twilight’ everywhere. Thirteen year olds weeping and screaming over what’s his face.  Blog posts with lots and lots of exclamation marks elating over the movie. Damn it. I like to be trendy, so I dragged the book back out and finished it.

It definitely picked up. I polished it off somewhere around Christmas.

So finally last night I saw the movie.

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I’m hooked. I don’t care if this crap is meant for tweeners. Edward Cullen got to me. Love the scene in the restaurant for some reason – also one of my favorite moments in the book. Apparently, others love it too.

 I’m on to ‘New Moon’ next.  Should someone in her mid-twenties be entertained by all of this?

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Banana Nut Biscotti

I was looking to bake something not too sweet and nice and crunchy. Something to snack on at work.  I used to make a biscotti that contained a hearty mix in of a specific brand of Cranberry Almond Crunch cereal – the recipe was no doubt a plug for Kraft, but was damn tasty. Baking this biscotti was an event in my college apartment – I more than once set off the smoke detector. I would pull the biscotti after the second bake, determine it was not crunchy enough, throw it back in for a few more minutes – and then fully forget about it. Mmmm, yummy little charred black bits.

Should I step it up, toss the Kraft recipe? Nah. But I will make a change.

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Banana nut biscotti sounded good. How could I resist this resting under a TJ’s sign showing a friendly gorilla devouring some crunchy clusters?

Recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups  Banana Nut Crunch cereal, crushed (I used the TJ version)
  • 1 ounce square baker’s semi-sweet baking chocolate (for drizzling on top)

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Mix flour, baking powder and salt until well blended; set aside. Beat sugar and butter in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs, bananas and vanilla; beat until well blended. Gradually add flour mixture, mixing until well blended after each addition. Stir in crushed cereal.

Divide dough in half with floured hands; place on lightly floured surface to avoid sticking. Roll each half into a mini log/loaf. You will slice this into pieces after the first bake. Place the logs, 2 inches apart, on nonstick baking sheet. (I used parchment paper).

Bake 25 to 30 minute or until lightly browned. Remove from baking sheet to wire rack; cool 5 minute Transfer to cutting board. Use serrated knife to diagonally cut each log into approx. 12 slices. Place, cut-sides up and 1/2 inch apart, on same baking sheet. Bake an additional 12 to 15 minutes** or until slightly dry. Remove to wire racks; cool completely.

Optional: Melt chocolate as directed on package (you can also melt in the micro – keep an eye on it); drizzle over biscotti. Let stand until chocolate is firm. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature. (I opted out)

**And so, I did it again. After 15 minutes and a decent cool down, the biscotti still had a little softness to it. I knew it would crunch up in a few days but I could not help myself. Back in the oven for ‘just a sec’.

Well, halfway into an episode of ‘Chopped’, I remembered the the little guys and expected the worst. No smoke detector issues, but the goods were starting to brown. (Lesson: they may need more than 15 but do set a timer).

 As I had planned to take some to work, I was a little annoyed. These didn’t look so great. And to be honest, using the cereal tends to give them a crumbly/crunchier texture – they slice decently for the second bake, but are not perfect.

However, they are tasty. The banana flavor is very subtle and I actually might add more mashed banana if I made these again. I would think a white chocolate chip might be good here as well.

And not feeling like sharing these with others due to their appearance? Really not a problem.

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An old friend is back in Pittsburgh and missing his previously uber urban Philly lifestyle. This seemed the perfect opportunity to drag someone to chic little Dinette with me. Dinette is located in the Whole Foods shopping complex. This could arguably be referred to as the ‘Eastside’ area. Dinette is located in the upper portion of the complex, close to the South Highland entrance. Its location provides for lots of free parking, a plus.

According to a glowing Post-Gazette review,the place sources local ingredients and is practically a one woman operation. Sounds good. We arrived at 7:45ish to be told there was a 40 minute wait. I am not sure if they take reservations or not – I would certainly call and find out before I ventured there again. We ended up waiting well over an hour and closer to an hour and a half (they do provide a pager). The dining room is tiny but bright and cheerful. There is a small bar area – we were able to grab seats here. I had a glass of Chianti and a glass of Barbera while waiting. My other dining companions were pleased to see Golden Monkey and Iron City ($1 cans – presumably an ode to the fact this is indeed a pizza parlor) on the menu.

After finally being seated, we quickly ordered. Pizzas are meant to serve one.  I had the fingerling and gorgonzola pizza. It was speckled with rosemary and topped with an egg. I thought the menu said the egg was to be cooked over easy – it was more like over medium or over hard. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the pizza though – it was really good. All the components of the pizza married perfectly – the crust was thin and crisp but substantial enough to hold all the toppings. One would think a pizza including potatoes and eggs might be heavy – this was not the case. The potatoes were cut paper thin and the gorgonzola was not overpowering. One dining companion said my pizza smelled like “Sunday morning” and inhaled a slice I offered up.

Other pizzas at the table included the broccoli rabe pizza and the prosciutto and arugula pizza. Both were very good. There were complaints of the prosciutto pizza being a bit salty – it was devoured though. As these were not the same pizzas mentioned in the PG review, I believe the menu changes frequently and is printed daily. There was a fairly plain ricotta based pizza on the menu in case you end up there with a picky eater.

Two glasses of wine, a pizza, tax and tip ran me about $45. A little pricey for just pizza. If you have a very hearty appetite, you may also need a starter or dessert to supplement your meal. The limited nature of the menu likely won’t have me running back, but I will return. The food really is very well executed and unique.

Overall pros included the food and the atmosphere. Cons included the long wait.

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The Boy does Bangkok

The Boy just got back from a weekend in Bangkok, Thailand. (Recap: A work obligation has taken him to Hyderabad, India for six weeks). He loved the city – a cosmopolitan area dotted with ancient temples. These pics were taken by a fellow traveler of The Boy.

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Photos of the floating market - Bangkok, Thailand

Photos of the floating market - Bangkok, Thailand

 I am jealous! He claims to have eaten wonderful fruit, numerous versions of pad thai, and a lemongrass-tini (which makes him very posh and worldly, according to the PG).

He also gave me this quote:

“The best part of the city was when we left the bar Saturday morning there was an elephant just roaming the streets! When you leave a bar and see an elephant, that’s when you know it’s time to go home.”

I am expecting some Thai food experiments when he gets back home!

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So I have read great things about coconut water – electrolyte packed, a great recovery drink, yada yada yada. After a long week, a Friday night on the town, and working all day Saturday (yay tax season), I decided to grab one of these while at Whole Foods.

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Blech! I did not like this at all. It tasted like overripe fruit to me. I love coconut but could not stomach this.  I forced down about half and saved the rest – figured it would be edible in a smoothie later on in the week.

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Current Dinner Favorite

So I am on a new kick – eat more vegetables! They are still not my favorite but this after work/after gym wrap is something I keep coming back to…

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Components:

TJs whole wheat tortilla

Homemade hummus

Handful of mixed greens

Lightly sauteed red onion and mushroom

Crumbled goat cheese

Drizzle of balsamic vinegar

The heat of the sauteed veggies gets everything toasty, melty, and delicious.

However, I was upset to realize an aged balsamic I purchased at PennMac has officially gone missing. I did a thorough search last night and could not locate it. Sigh. How does a bottle of balsamic vinegar disappear ? I do some shuffling of ingredients between my place and The Boy’s place, but still. Ridiculous. Oh well, it still tasted lovely drizzled with some average BV.

The Boy is having a wonderful time eating his heart out in India.  He is an adventurous eater and I LUVS IT.

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I have visited Crepes Parisiennes at 732 Filbert St. in Shadyside a handful of times (there is also a location at 207 S Craig St in Oakland – I have never been). When friends suggested meeting for brunch this past Sunday, I dined there yet again.

I had heard the ‘Crepe Place’, as many people call it, had sporadic hours. We planned to meet at 10:00AM and I hoped it was open. A few weekends ago I arrived on a Saturday morning to find a sign proclaiming the whole place was closed for the weekend. Bummer (but, I mean, nothing The Bagel Factory – 5825 Ellsworth Ave – couldn’t fix). But Sunday morning we arrived around 10:30AM and found employees, crepes, no line, and ample seating.

This is a tiny joint, almost underground. You descend four or five narrow steps to get inside. The seating policy does not allow you to grab a table until you have placed your orders.  The front counter appears to somewhat regulate the flow of customers (seemingly slowing down or speeding up) so that everyone can find a seat once they order. You sit and they will bring the food to you.  I have never waited more than a few minutes for a table. On the contrary, I have never felt I had to quickly vacate my seat after eating.  However, I would not recommend taking a big group here. The place certainly filled up as the morning progressed.

Now to the crepes. The menu includes both sweet and savory crepes. Savory crepes come with a small side salad composed of mixed greens and your choice of sauce. Most sweet crepes come with whipped cream, walnuts, and maple syrup. Sweet delicious real maple syrup. I ordered the plain crepe. It was soft, chewy, eggy. Really delicious. Plenty of maple syrup and crunchy walnuts completed the dish.

Other crepe favorites include nutella and banana and ‘french toast’ (an egg is added inside the crepe, leading to a richer, heavier feel). I have also sampled the savory crepes and enjoyed them. My friends rave of the soytang sauce.

This place is unique and will not leave you feeling quite as leaden as Pamela’s. The seating and space is limited and this should likely be considered. Also, its only crepes – no other menu options. Yet it is definitely worth a try and I find myself craving that thin crepe/maple syrup combo.

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The Blob

Finally, an occasion to make a cake! A family birthday ushered in my chance to prepare a baked good I rarely dance with.  I am a city gal with a road warrior BF and therefore it NEVER makes sense for me to make a big cake. Like I need an entire cake sitting in the fridge, waiting to die a slow death as I sliver away at it.  Get real.

I was aware of the Double Chocolate Layer Cake, infamous over at Epicurious. See recipe here. Tons of positive and spirited reviews, so I went with it. And it uses lots of yummy chocolate. I used Hershey Extra Dark.

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Disclaimer: I am not an experienced cake baker.  Therefore, I followed the recipe closely. I did use canola oil instead of vegetable oil.  Also, I realized I only owned two 9 inch pans. Solution: dump the remainder of the batter into some mini muffin tins. 

There was a ton of batter. I likely (well not ‘likely’, ‘did’) overfill the cake pans. This resulted in a lovely molten chocolate waterfall cascading on to the bottom of my oven. The cake in the mini muffin tins tasted good but looked kind of weird and refused to dislodge itself from the tins. Uh oh. As I have had a ‘weird’ (I previously described it as ‘pocky’) look to alot of my baked goods recently, I am thinking I need some new baking powder??

Since the pans overflowed, the cakes came out lopsided and with misshapen tops. I did get the layers out of the pans but when I tried to trim the cakes, big hunks were breaking off. Oh Jesus help me.

I also may have slightly undercooked the cakes. Really I have no freakin’ clue. I soldiered on. The icing actually came together fairly easily. I let it sit in the fridge a bit to firm up.

I wrestled the layers onto a cake plate. Here is the lady from her good side.

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I tried to save the thing with icing but it was tough. I do own an offset spatula but still dont really know how to ice a cake.  I tried my best but the poor darling looked like it had a growth. That is why I christened it ‘The Blob’.

Unflattering photo of 'The Blob'

Unflattering photo of 'The Blob'

But I guess it wasn’t too bad.

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The cake was super rich and did taste divine. Rich, dark, dense, moist. I just don’t know what happened to my layers? They puffed and overflowed and then sank. They were resistant to any type of trimming. The cake did cut/serve ok after a rest in the fridge. And a few forkfuls still tasted sweet and intense at 7am this morning. Oh Blob, you are so bad your good.

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