Sunday, May 20, 2012

Chewy Toasted Coconut and Lime Sugar Cookies

This weekend in Boston, we were blessed with some pretty unseasonably beautiful weather! The sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, the flowers were in bloom and temperature highs flirted with mid-70's to low-80's! I'm hoping it was a perfect foreshadowing of the impending summer season, but nonetheless, I loved spending this weekend outside, soaking up the sun.

The gorgeous weather and springy scenery inspired me to whip up a soft and citrusy twist on an old favorite: sugar cookies. Their chewy consistency with a hint of toasted coconut is perfectly complimented by a punchy kick of lime and together, the flavors are like a springtime party for your palette! I could go on and on about how much I enjoyed these cookies, but I would highly recommend you make a batch for yourself (and some friends and family, of course!)  I'd love to hear what you think about this fun, seasonal and dynamic take on traditional sugar cookies in the comments section. Enjoy!

Chewy Lime and Coconut Sugar Cookies (recipe from Two Peas and Their Pod)
Yield: 3 dozen cookies -- Cook Time: 8-10 minutes

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one large lime
3 tbsp lime juice
½ cup toasted coconut
1/2 cup sugar for rolling cookies

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
3. Using a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until smooth and very fluffy. This will take a couple of minutes.
4. Beat in the egg, vanilla extract, lime juice and lime zest. Mix until well combined.
5. Gradually add in the dry ingredients and toasted coconut. Mix until combined, don't over mix.
6. Roll rounded teaspoonfuls of cookie dough into balls. Put sugar in a small bowl and roll cookie dough balls in the sugar. Place on lined cookie sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart.
7. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until lightly browned. The cookies will start to crack a little bit.
8. Let stand on cookie sheet two minutes. Move cookies to a cooling rack.

*Note: To toast the coconut, place coconut on lined baking sheet. Bake for 5-8 minutes at 350 degrees. Tossing a couple of times. Remove from oven when coconut is light brown.

Happy Baking! :)


"Tweet Me, Maybe"

I interrupt your regularly scheduled food blogging to bring you an EXTRA special taste of vlogging, social media, song parodies and embarrassing dance moves, compliments of my fabulous roomie and friend, Cassidy Quinn, and I! 

Last weekend, Cassidy invited me to be featured in her parody video of the current hit "Call Me, Maybe" song, "Tweet Me, Maybe." Cassidy had already written the lyrics and recorded the audio, so I added in some directional and production ideas, in addition to some horrible dance moves, and together we came up with a pretty goofy (but great!) video that's accrued nearly 900 views so far (wow, that's a lot of people witnessing my lack of coordinated dance moves). We had so much fun putting it all together and so I just had to share it here! I think it's a perfect example of the importance of never taking yourself too seriously in life. Sometimes you just need to let loose and dance around like a crazy person. Perhaps we are crazy... but aren't we all, at least a little bit? I tend to think harboring a little craziness keeps things interesting. What about you? I'd love to hear about some crazy things you've done to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone in the comments section. 

If you're looking for more laughs, check out our bloopers reel! Enjoy! And hey, tweet me, maybe?


Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

I love birthdays! There's something so special about celebrating the people you love from year to year. And because I love birthdays so much, the fact that they're traditionally celebrated with the same old boring vanilla and chocolate cakes has always stumped me. When you're celebrating someone special (like my little, newly-16-year-old brother!), it calls for pulling out all the stops! And this year, pulling out all the stops turned into a homemade Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting. 
Although I didn't have time to make the actual cake from scratch (thank goodness for Duncan Hines' Devil's Food cake mix), I followed Smitten Kitchen/Picky Cook's recipe for the homemade ganache and raspberry filling and I am SO glad I did! I baked the two cake rounds ahead of time, wrapped them up in plastic wrap and popped them in the fridge to seal in their moisture. The moist texture and dense chocolate flavor of the cake provided a perfect canvas for painting the tart raspberry filling in between each layer. Smothered in chocolate ganache frosting, the cake became even more decadent! I'm not usually a very big fan of cake frostings, as they can be gritty and overly-sweet, but this cream-based ganache was light, smooth and truly was the "icing on the cake!"
The cake was a hit amongst friends and family and most importantly, was well-received by the birthday boy! If you're looking for something special for your loved ones' next birthday celebration, this cake is it! 
Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake with Chocolate Ganache Frosting

For cake layers:
1 box of Duncan Hines Devil's Food cake mix OR,
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee (or espresso)
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
For ganache frosting:
1/2 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Make cake layers: 
Preheat oven to 300 F and butter pans. Line bottoms with rounds of parchment paper. Butter again and dust both pans with cocoa powder. Tap and swirl around the cocoa to lightly coat the pans.
Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.
Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove parchment paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.
Ganache frosting:
Finely chop chocolate. In a small saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.
Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. 
Raspberry Filling:
2 10-ounce bag frozen raspberries, thawed
1/2 cup sugar - i was a bit on the shy side when i measure it
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Puree the raspberries in a food processor. Press the puree through a fine-mesh strainer with the back of a spoon, removing the seeds. Heat the puree in a small pot with the sugar and cornstarch until mixture boils, stirring constantly. As it boils, it should quickly thicken. Stir in lemon zest at the end.
Let it cool complete before spreading it thinly over three layers. 
To Assemble:
With a long serrated knife (I used my Wilton cake leveler), slice each cake into two layers. Lay the bottom layer on cake stand. Take 1/3 the raspberry filling and spread it over the layer. Stay about 1/2 inch away from the edge to avoid the filling seeping onto the outside of the cake. Lay the next layer on top. Spread another 1/3 of the raspberry filling. Place the third layer on cake and the last of the raspberry filling. Put the final layer on the top of the cake. Gently make sure that all the layers line up. 
Pour some of the ganache in the middle of the top layer and with an offset spatula start smoothing out the frosting - gently pushing it toward the edge. Add more until you have worked the ganache down over the sides of the cake.
I decorated the top with fresh raspberries and red piped icing! Enjoy!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer: Phillips Candy House Review

Don't you just love when satisfying your sweet tooth becomes the "right thing to do?" Well, this week in Boston, it was! 

Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer 2012 took place this week from May 7-13th.  The cause is based on the premise that no one says no to dessert (really, who would say no to dessert?!) That’s why at Boston Bakes for Breast Cancer, desserts serve as the centerpiece of their mission to raise money for breast cancer research.  Their dessert-centric breast cancer charity events, including Boston Bakes, feature the food of the greatest Chefs, Pastry Chefs and culinary artists. The non-profit organization has one goal: to end breast cancer in our lifetime.  

In honor of Boston Bakes this week, Phillips Candy House, Boston's oldest chocolatier, sent me this special Chocolate Chip Brownie Cookie adorned with a chocolate pink ribbon that they were selling for the benefit of the cause. With 100 percent of the proceeds of the sale of the product going toward Breast Cancer awareness, I was psyched to check out the product in hopes that it's delicious flavor would encourage many fellow sweet-toothers to purchase it! 

The cookie was sent in lovely, pretty-in-pink packaging, and although it was definitely chocolatey (no complaints there), it was a bit dry for my taste. Since it was supposed to be a brownie-based cookie, I was expecting a more gooey and fudgey consistency. The pink chocolate ribbon was made from white-chocolate and was definitely better than your standard white chocolate bar. As I tasted the ribbon, it had a buttery and melt-in-your-mouth feel that I really enjoyed. It was clear that the chocolate was homemade with tender love and care!

Many thanks to Phillips Candy House for sharing their heartfelt product with me! I am so honored to have been included in such a fantastic cause. 

*While I did receive this complimentary product for review from Phillips Candy House, these opinions are honest and entirely my own.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Craft Beer and Seasonal Desserts at Finale

Did I mention I love Finale Desserterie? I believe it may have come up here, here and here. Given my love for this sweet-lovers heaven, it really works in my favor that they hold monthly pairings. This month,  Finale invited me back for some craft beer and seasonal desserts fun, hosted by none other than the lovely Executive Pastry Chef, Nicole Coady! Before the pairing, my knowledge of beer was fairly limited, and I certainly had never attempted to pair certain beers with dessert, so I was psyched to see what Chef Nicole had up her sleeve!

Throughout the evening, we worked our way through the menu that included a broad spectrum of craft beers varying in flavor, alcohol content, aroma etc., as well as a delightful spread of Chef Nicole's signature seasonal Finale favorites. It sounded a little something like this:

Original Sin Hard Cider with a Frangiapane Tart
This was a clean, sweet cider that allowed the natural flavors of the apple to speak for itself. Paired with the almond flavors of the Frangiapane Tart, the cider's granny smith apple base became even more apparent.
Allagash White with a Lemon Tart
This beer was brewed with a generous portion of wheat and spiced with corriander and curacao orange peel, making it extra fruity, refreshing and slightly cloudy in appearance. The pairing felt summery and light. I would have loved to have kicked up the lemon flavor in the tart just a bit more to balance out the heaviness of the beer.
Duvel Golden Ale with a Fresh Fruit Tart
This was my favorite pairing! The Duvel was blonde and refreshing like a pilsner, but packed the flavor, depth and complexity of an ale. The buttery crust of the tart combined with the fresh fruit flavors complimented the fresh and dynamic Duvel perfectly. 
Aventinus with a Mascarpone Mousse Cup
This beer poured deep cloudy brown with a generous off-white head and complex aromas of dark fruits, banana, clove and sherry-like esse. This was a very interesting pairing as I don't believe I would have enjoyed tasting the beer alone, but did enjoy it with the Mascarpone Mousse Cup. The notes of bananas, clove and molasses in the Aventinus were prevalent and almost overpowering when first tasted, but paired with the Mascarpone Mousse Cup, became perfectly balanced with the dark chocolate and cheese flavors. Another brilliant match made in heaven by Chef Nicole!
Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock with Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake
The Ayinger was a rich, dark elixer with cascading layers of malt complexity balanced by elegant hops with notes of toffee, caramel, elegant dark-malt roastiness and pure malt. Chef Nicole's Mini Chocolate Peanut Butter Cupcake was simply to-die-for and the chocolate flavors were perfectly enhanced by the chocolate notes in the beer. I could have eaten a tub of the peanut butter frosting, which also cut the maltiness of the beer with perfect ease. Another brilliant pairing! 

Overall, it was another fabulous Finale night filled with even more wonderful pairings by Chef Nicole. She confessed, yet again, to using the raid-the-pastry-case technique to come up with these matches (I still want to get in on that action), and who can really fault her -- it works like a charm! 

Many thanks again to Chef Nicole for hosting us, and for preparing such an enjoyable array of seasonal desserts for us that evening! Next month, Finale is making dessert magic with gelato and sorbet. My mouth is already watering...

*While I did receive this complimentary tasting from Finale, these opinions are honest and entirely my own. 


Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Sing-Off Dreams Came True!

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Everyone has a bucket list, right? A list of things they want to accomplish before they die?
Well, I sure do! And one item on mine was to meet the folks from The Sing Off, specifically, my favorite group, Delilah. In case you haven't checked out my "About Me," I'm a huge fan of NBC's A capella show, The Sing Off, and have been watching religiously since the first episode. There is just something so uniquely creative and intriguing to me about A capella music, and this show brings that level of creativity into a whole new stratosphere! 
Last Sunday night, my Sing-Off dreams finally came true! Thanks to my awesome roomie, Cassidy, I attended Acapella Palooza, a benefit concert for the Mass General Cancer Center, at the Boston University Agganis Arena. The concert was simply fantastic! Experiencing the groups performing live in front of me was even more amazing than watching them perform live on television each week. And, just when I thought things couldn't get any better, Cassidy and I got backstage access to the concert's after party and met all of the groups that performed such as, the host, Ben Folds, North Shore, The Dartmouth Aires, Pentatonix and of course, Delilah
Cassidy and I immediately started surveying the room and brainstorming how to tag-team interviews. Cassidy came up with some great questions on the fly and I filmed. We ended up talking to nearly all of the groups, but of course my favorite was Delilah. In a musical category where male participation can usually make or break a group's success, they hold their own and they kick butt while doing it! 
Overall, the night was truly a dream come true and I'll definitely never forget it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The "No Extras" Foodie Rehab Diet

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Alright foodies, it's time to get real. In all of your fantastic foodie adventures, have you ever started to feel just the slightest bit burnt out? Like, that exquisite chocolate doesn't seem so exquisite anymore because you are having it all the time? Or, that high-end wine just doesn't seem so intriguingly dynamic because you're feeling guilty about the calories? I found myself feeling a little less than inspired lately and decided it was time for a change. Don't get me wrong! I'm still as passionate about food as ever, but I decided to try something new this month, and I'm really psyched about it! 

With many exciting foodie events planned in the month of May, I've decided to embrace a "no extras" diet in my day-to-day life that will lead me to dwindle down both my daily caloric intake and monthly food budget for the next 31 days. I know this month-long commitment will have tons of benefits including: leading an even healthier lifestyle, saving money and dialing up the excitement level surrounding my awesome events this month, since they'll really be something to look forward to!

So, my pared-down meal plan this month is sounding a little something like this:
  • Low-fat oatmeal with skim milk and fresh berries for breakfast
  • Spinach salad with roast turkey, grape tomatoes and almonds for lunch
  • Greek yogurt for a mid-afternoon snack
  • Baked chicken with assorted veggies for dinner
  • Tons of water!
I'm also kicking up my exercise routine a notch, which started with last night's kick-butt kickboxing class!

So, foodies, don't leave me hanging here. If you've ever felt you needed to shake up your daily nourishment routine to breathe some spice back into your foodie escapades, let me know in the comments below. I'm hoping to find enough fun alternative recipes that fit this meal plan to continue these habits long-term, so if you have any tips, feel free to shout 'em out! I'd love to hear your secrets to staying healthy and still enjoying the most delicious of foods in life, as well! Stay tuned on my Twitter account for daily updates and Instagram photos of what the "No Extras" Foodie Rehab Diet is really looking like! With enough creativity, I think this could turn into the Foodie Survival Lifestyle!

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