Monday, March 30, 2015

Homemade Vanilla Extract

One of my all-time favorite baking ingredients is vanilla extract.  I can't get enough of the stuff!  I put it in everything from cookies, to pancakes, to oatmeal - you name it, I'll try it!  I just don't like the expensive price tag that you have to pay for mediocre quality at the grocery store.  So I took matters into my own hands and purchased vanilla beans from Beanilla so I could make it myself.  This brand is literally half the cost of the grocery store selection, so much fresher and shipping is free!  It came right to my door in 2 days!  I chose the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean, but have purchased their Mexican Vanilla Extract  before, which is also AMAZING.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

An Afternoon in Ohio City: West Side Market and Great Lakes Brewing Co.

So we're not exactly getting the spring weather that we hoped for.  Um, what the heck Ohio, 27° and it's almost April?  Regardless, it's a sunny beautiful day, and one of my favorite places to go on a Saturday is the West Side Market in the Ohio City neighborhood.  For some reason, every time I step inside I instantly feel like I'm somewhere else...or maybe more like I'm living back in Florence again and visiting the Mercato di San Lorenzo for some fresh vegetables and ciabatta bread.  Okay, I'm officially daydreaming - back to the West Side Market.  On the weekends, it's always bustling with with people; you literally have to shimmy sideways sometimes to get through the crowds.  But if you time your trip just right, at about 3:30 in the afternoon, all of the vendors start to mark down their prices because the West Side Market is closed on Sundays and they have to get rid of their produce for the new week.  You'll get the best deals on the freshest produce around!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sticky Cinnamon Raisin Rolls

If you guys haven't noticed, I've been trying to post some healthier recipes lately because summer is right around the corner, and it seems like everyone is trying to eat well so they can look and feel their best.  Well...this is NOT one of those recipes!  But hey, you gotta live a little!  And if living means making your own homemade Sticky Cinnamon Raisin Rolls, then bring on the butter!  Seriously though, I'm still in shock that I can make something like this without a professional pastry degree.  It's THAT good.  And flaky just like a croissant.  But there is no yeast, kneading or the oh-my-gosh-i-have-to-wait-like-3-hours-for-this-stuff-to-rise involved.  In fact, the whole process is under 45 minutes.  What's my secret?  Hmm I suppose you will just have to read more to find out!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Buffalo Chicken Dip Bites

It seems like no matter what birthday party or get together you go to nowadays, there is always Buffalo Chicken Dip!  Don't get me wrong, I love the stuff.  But isn't it time to mix things up a bit?  For Howie's 25th birthday party last night, I tweaked my usual recipe and put it in crunchy, flaky, bite-size fillo shells that you can just pop right into your mouth!  Everybody went crazy for them AND I didn't get stuck washing a million plates and spoons like I usually have to do with the dip.  You gotta try these Buffalo Chicken Dip Bites for your next big get-together!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Spicy Pepperonata Sauce

One of the main problems with many food blogs (including myself sometimes!) is that the recipes they post look sooooo delicious - like YUM - and they claim to be super easy...but they're seriously asking you to buy 15 ingredients??  I know, guilty as charged!  I do it too.  I promise that I really don't intend to, but my kitchen is always fully stocked so I forget that people who don't cook regularly, or only stick to a few basic recipes, probably don't have the 8 spices that I'm asking you to add in 1/2 tsp. quantities (oh hi, Garlic Rosemary Beef Stew).  I'm challenging myself to come up with more recipes that have very basic ingredients, with most of them being spices you should always have on hand if you're planning to make any entree, soup or appetizer on this blog: oregano, basil, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and, obviously, salt and pepper.  I invented this little recipe for Spicy Pepperonata Sauce on the fly last night, taking inspiration from my cooking class at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking earlier this winter.  It definitely ups the flavor - and heat - of your standard red pasta sauce!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Peanut Butter Banana "Ice Cream"

Now that the weather is finally starting to warm up, my cravings for ice cream are getting totally out of control!  Don't judge me, but I might have accidentally eaten it not 1, not 2, but 3 times last week!  I can't help it if it's my favorite dessert and my self control magically vanishes at the mere thought of it!  Yeah, I definitely need to cap this indulgence off at a once-per-week limit, which means I have to be creative and come up with healthier substitutes.  This little gem of a recipe popped into my head yesterday on my drive to the gym and I tested it a few hours later.  It TOTALLY worked.  Hellllloooo Peanut Butter Banana "Ice Cream!"  Where have you been all my life?!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Maroon 5 Concert | Pittsburgh, PA

I don't know about you, but I had the BEST weekend!  I got to watch the (second) love of my life, Adam Levine rock the stage in front of almost 20,000 people with my favorite concert buddy, my mom.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that Maroon 5 has gotten better over the last couple of years; I didn't think they could possibly top their Overexposed tour...but they did.  And if anybody would know, it would be me; I'm OBSESSED.  I started going to their concerts when This Love was a #1 hit on the radio and She Will Be Loved wasn't even on the charts yet...helloooo early 2005.  If you're reading this and Maroon 5 hasn't come to your city yet, you need to buy tickets, even if it's a splurge!  Or better yet, choose a city that's within a few hours driving distance and take the afternoon before the concert to explore!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rocky River Brewing Co.

My favorite thing in the whole wide world might be Friday Happy Hour.  There's just something about the feeling of freedom from the work week and excitement for the weekend's festivities that pair perfectly with a good beer and equally delicious food.  Howie and I have our old standbys, Deegan's Kitchen and Bar ($3 drafts til 7!) and 16-Bit Bar+Arcade ($1 off beers and we can channel our inner hipsters), but we also love trying new restaurants and bars.  Like Rocky River Brewing Company. I've been to RR Brewing Co. a few times since late fall and it's never disappointed!  It's kind of like a miniature version of Ohio City - super great food for reasonable prices with craft beer brewed in-house - but without all of the chaos typical to West 25th St.  Not saying that you won't have to wait for a table if you come after 6, but it won't be a 2 hour wait like everybody's probably had to suffer once or twice in order to eat at Great Lakes Brewing Co. or Market Garden.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Orange Juice Ice Cubes

This is sort of a random post, but also sort of brilliant!  It stems from the idea that there are 2 people in this world...juice drinkers and coffee drinkers.  Let's face it, everybody starts their day with one or the other.  Mine involves a massive thermos of hazelnut-flavored Folger's coffee with a dash of ground cinnamon, unless this juice we're talking about is in a mimosa!  Anyway, back to the topic!  I was super sick last week and bought orange juice to get a little extra vitamin C.  Flash forward 4 days later, and I still had over half the bottle left with no intention of finishing it.  What to do?  Freeze the leftovers in an ice cube tray!  It's been a great addition to my morning smoothies to add a little citrus kick without having to waste a whole orange.  I haven't tried freezing any other types of juice, but feel like it would work out just as well as long as it's 100% juice.  Just a little food for thought to get you recycling ingredients instead of throwing them away!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Italian Wedding Soup

There is nothing better than soup on a cold day.  Scratch that.  Nothing better than Italian Wedding Soup made on the Saturday morning of a cold weekend so you can reap the benefits for Saturday and Sunday's lunch and dinner!  Howie and I have been loving every minute of it!  I know it's starting to warm up...and all you can think about is how much you want to bust out your grill...but you gotta try this Italian Wedding Soup.  How could you resist homemade, oven-baked meatballs soaked in a savory broth with tiny little pearl pastas?  I can't!  And besides, the highs are still around 40.  Despite the fact that every car I've driven past today has had it's front windows cracked open, it's still pretty darn cold outside in any non-Clevelander's eyes!  Warm up with this delectable creation. Mmmm!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Garlic Rosemary Beef Stew

Even though it's finally March, which is spring in my books, I spent the weekend sick as dog!  I was lucky to have my awesome boyfriend Howie by my side from Friday after work to Sunday night.  We tried to make the best of my soft foods diet with homemade Tortellini Soup on Friday night (and Saturday for leftovers, of course!), and and an ahhhmazing Garlic Rosemary Beef Stew on Sunday night.  It was super easy to make and let us be lazy on the couch watching Maleficent and the Cavs Game all afternoon without lifting a finger...except little test tastes to get the seasoning just right!  We started prepping the stew at 1:30, and everything was perfectly tender by 7:00 for dinner.  YUM!