Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bouchon Bakery Macarons

Remember when we had coffee and I told you not to make macarons? Yea, I still stand by that -- that doesn't mean they don't photograph well though. 

Macarons are by far probably one of the most difficult pastries to master. Seriously. When folks go through culinary school, specifically the baking portion (if they choose to do so), macarons can make or break ya. What do I mean? They could make you hate your life. 

With that being said, why did I wake up one day wanting to make them? Because I saw it as a challenge. And because they are delicious. And pretty.

Nevermind that I haven't had a minute of professional culinary guidance. 

Nevermind that they are one of the most difficult pastry items to master. 

And nevermind that they're so delicate, handling them could make a grown man cry. 

I did my research. Kinda. I watched lots of videos. Scoured many hundreds of recipes, blogs, and pins. What did I decide on? Thomas Keller's macaron recipe. I figured if his 2 inch goodies (get your mind out of the gutter - I know what you're thinking) could draw people from all over and make him boo-koos of dollars -- he must be doing something right. That and the fact that he has a list of accolades the length of The Great Wall of China. He's not just a baker either.

Cue The Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. This book is the real deal. Even if you don't buy it to make macarons, the other recipes will surely lure you in.

I figure if I share the ingredients, you could at least decide if it's something you want to actually do and can go from there. Just go ahead and buy a dozen eggs. You'll need lots and lots and lots of eggs. And a stand mixer. I'm not saying this can't be done without a standout mixer. I am saying that your life would be hell on earth without it. Just keeping it real. And if you want a valuable tip - make your buttercream at night and make your macarons the next day. You'll be less stressed and will probably enjoy everything more if you do it that way :)

This is one of, if not my favorite picture that I've ever taken. And it's of eggs. Such a weirdo I am. #yodatalk

Thomas Keller's Basic Buttercream 

What You'll Need

  • Egg Whites - 1/4 C + 1 tbsp.
  • Granulated Sugar - 3/4 C and 2 tbsp. + 2 & 1/4 tsp. and 3tbsp. + 1tsp.
  • Water - 3 tbsp. + 1 tsp.
  • Unsalted Butter - 8 ounces, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, at room temperature
    • The book offers various methods for flavoring. I chose to add just a few drops of oils and Wilton coloring to my buttercream to make a couple different flavors/colors. The pink is a strawberry (artificial strawberry will never be my favorite, but I was under a time crunch), the purple was just plain vanilla, the cream colored one was coconut, and the brown one was chocolate-hazelnut with a little cocoa powder for color.

Thomas Keller's Vanilla Macarons

What You'll Need

  • Almond Flour/Meal - 1 & 3/4 C + 2 & 1/2 tbsp. 
  • Powdered Sugar - 1 & 3/4 C + 1 tbsp. + 2 tsp.
  • Egg Whites - 1/4 C + 1 & 1/2 tbsp. and 1/4 C + 2 tbsp.
  • 1 Vanilla Bean, split lengthwise
  • Granulated Sugar - 1 C + 3 tbsp. + a pinch for the egg whites
  • Water - 2/3 C

I chose to share the ingredients and not the actual how-to for several reasons:

  • It would take me forever to type it all up.
  • I'm not sure what copyright cat is sitting behind their computer waiting for me to over-share.
  • The cookbook is worth every cent. You could use it as a conversation piece/coffee-table book if anything.

If you get the book and do decide to make them, let me know how they turn out! I went into this with every expectation of failing every step of the way. A little more than half of my macarons didn't turn out, but I still had some totally edible product. No one complained that they were horrible either!

Usually I would attempt to figure out what went wrong and maybe try it again. That will not be happening with these. I repeat, I will not be attempting these again haha. If anything, I'll have them shipped in from Thomas Keller himself. At least I know I tried.


Monday, February 25, 2013

Brunch at Heritage and the James River Park System/Belle Isle

It's Monday y'all - thank goodness it's over (serious case of the Mondays over here). 

Let's talk tv. Anyone out there watching The Following on Fox? It's a fairly new show based out of Richmond, VA and a few other surrounding cities (Petersburg, Norfolk, etc.). A brief synopsis? A romantic literary professor turned serial killer that drew his inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe. The link? Edgar Allen Poe lived in Richmond for a large portion of his life. Y'all know me by now - I eat.sleep.breath all things Richmond. It's muh city, what can I say? O and you're in luck! It's coming on tonight. I definitely recommend getting caught up on episodes you've missed. Besides, who doesn't love some Kevin Bacon (he plays the detective)?

Since I love all things Richmond, it's only fitting to share a little piece of Richmond with ya. How about the James River Park System? Never heard of it? My mom hadn't either until we were skipping across the bridge to Belle Isle. Like myself, my mom was born and raised in Richmond -- so how could she have never heard of the James River Park System? Because when she was my age there was no "park system." It was just rocks and the swiftly flowing James River -- you had to hope the river was low enough so that you could skip rocks across. Yep, that was one of many stories we bonded over a couple of weekends ago. Of course the ones about her skipping school with friends on those same rocks were also included - HA! #sorrymom #youvebeenouted

So yea - about a month ago on a Sunday morning, my mom and I straight grubbed at Heritage. There was nothing lady-like about what we ordered or how we ate it. My mom got the Chicken and Waffles and I got their Biscuits and Gravy. If you're a local go. Now. If you're not, ya need to come visit and grab brunch here. ASAP. Trust me - I'd never lead you astray.

Best post-brunch idea? Go walking along the river. It was a crisp, cool January day and while things were definitely grey and bare, it was still muh city and I loved it.

The river was super high that day.

Sun flare and just a little snow that hadn't yet melted.

These trees. I love them.

How my mom used to get across . . .

Here's where our road ended and we had to find alternative means.

When I was in high school, we used to come down here and lay out on the rocks. Talk about a good time.

How we got across - the bridge that was unheard of when my mom was younger.

Look at that flare would ya?

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree -- someone must have gotten seriously angry with this tree.

Check out the park system. You can walk, bike, run and it's tons of fun.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

DIY Map-Inspired Resin Drink Coasters

Hey there!

Who's ready for a little craft? I promise it's fun and it will definitely wow your friends! I'm sure many of you have seen various tutorials surface on Pinterest on how to make drink coasters using bathroom tiles, your favorite photographs, and resin. How's this tute different? I've used it all - photos, paper, etc. I know what works and doesn't and the best method for each!

I actually made these for the first time about a year or more ago, and the thought of using resin scared me. I had the shakes and muscle twitches at just the mere thought of using it. 



I'm usually the first to jump on board with new materials and tools, but this resin stuff was throwing me for a loop. I think it was because I had never used it before, you have to work quickly (I like to take my time with arts/crafts), I thought I might screw up my project and have to scrap it . .  the list goes on. 

Why on earth would I tell you this is fun and then tell you I had night sweats about the thought of using it? Because! I'm here to build you up! To add a new skill to your craft knowledge arsenal! To be your rah-rah resin cheerleader. For real though. You can do this. It's not bad. You'll be so proud of yourself when you're done. And what's the worst that could happen? Let's say you do mess up. You've only spent about 30 minutes of your time and just a couple bucks. More importantly, you'll have learned what not to do for next time.

Let's get started shall we? This is gonna be a little mix of Instagram/big-girl camera pictures. 

If you're using photos, you will not need Mod Podge. If you are using something paper-based like scrapbook paper, old love notes, or in my case, maps - you will need Mod Podge. What kind? O that's a good question. Out of all the craft goods that I own, Mod Podge is not one of them. Just never been a Mod Podge girl. Sue me. 

My roommate used to use Mod Podge like a feen. On every surface. Everywhere. Everyday. She said she loved it. I thought ok, let me head out to give this a try. I walked up in Michael's and found this:

Why? Why are there so many kinds? This is where I started sweating again. Just imagine my eyes growing larger and larger as I picked up every single bottle of Mod Podge asking whyyyyyyyy each and every time. My choice? I went with the yellow one that's a matte finish (truthfully, I don't think it matters because you won't see it or your brush strokes after you pour your resin on top - the resin just needs something to grip if you're using a paper-based product on your tile). So what else will you need? Follow the steps below!

DIY Map Inspired Resin Drink Coasters

What You'll Need
  • 4 - 4x4 square bathroom tiles (the color is up to you - white/tan looks best since the sides will be white no matter what)
  • Pictures, scrapbook paper, maps, etc.
  • Glue stick
  • Mod Podge
  • Foam Brush
  • Old credit/library card - (for smoothing things out)
  • Resin - (I used the Enviro Tex Lite Resin) - For all you Richmonders, Pleasant's Hardware sells the small box and the large containers of this for a fair price (try not to buy anything else while you're in there - I dare ya). I have since seen the small box at Michael's and you could use a 40% off coupon. I purchased the small box, have over half of it left, and I've done four sets of these to date.
  • Large popsicle sticks
  • Cork Contact Paper or Rubber/Cloth Feet for Frames
  • Blowtorch or straw
  • Hairdryer
  • Four items to elevate your tiles

How To Make Em (see images at the bottom)
  1. Gather all of your supplies.
  2. Cut your images (whichever you're using - scrapbook paper, pictures, maps) just smaller than the tile, leaving a small border around the edge of the tile. 
  3. Next, roll out your cork contact paper. Use the image squares you just cut as a template and cut four squares out of cork. These will be applied to the back of your coasters to help protect your tables.
  4. After you cut your cork, apply your images to top of your tiles using a glue-stick, making sure you cover the maps well before applying to tiles (especially the edges). Smooth out with a credit card or something of the like. If you are using pictures - glossy/matte finish, it doesn't matter - skip the next step involving Mod Podge. You only need Mod Podge if you're using something paper-based.
  5. Crack open your Mod Podge and apply a thin coat with your foam brush all over the tiles. Once you have one coat on, apply another generous coat. At this point, air bubbles may be forming under your images. Using the brush/your old credit card, gently smooth out the edges/bubbles. This may take a few tries, just be patient, diligent, and gentle - you don't want to rip your image. Allow to cure - I waited 24 hours because I wanted a nice, hard, moisture-free surface. If you see brush strokes, it's ok - you won't see them once the resin is poured and set.
  6. Line a small table with parchment paper.
  7. Use four items to elevate your tiles. (I used some larger, round honey mustard dressing packets.) Keep in mind that it should be something smaller than the tile, not too tall, and stable enough so that the tiles don't tip over when you're pouring your resin. You can pretty much bet that if resin gets on the your table/items used to elevate your tiles, these things will be ruined because it's never coming off. This is why parchment paper is your friend because you can just roll it up and trash it when you're done. 
  8. Next, mix up your resin according to the directions on your box. Tip - it's better to over mix than to under mix, so . . . Stir It Up Little Darling. You could even listen to that as motivation while you stir :) This should be done in a well-ventilated and temperature controlled area. 
  9. Once you've mixed your resin, you're ready to pour!
  10. Pour a small stream of resin in a ribbon-like manner over tile #1. Use your popsicle stick to smooth it all out. Pour more resin if needed and smooth out. Less is more and the resin expands, so start low and slow with how much you pour. Once you're comfortable with your first tile, proceed to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tiles. 
  11. After the tops are completed, you may see some drippage on the sides and bottoms. Using a new popsicle stick, smooth the dripping resin over the sides for a nice finish and smooth out any drips along the bottom edge. 
  12. Within the first 15 minutes of pouring your resin, some tiny air bubbles will pop up on top of your tiles (usually around the edges of your images). Using a blow torch on the low setting, move across the tiles about 6-10 inches from the top of them - this will get rid of the air bubbles and set your resin. If you don't have a blow torch, using a straw to blow out the bubbles will also work. Having done both techniques, the blow torch is far easier. 
  13. Continue to watch your tiles for about 15 more minutes to make sure no more air bubbles appear. 
  14. Set your table aside, away from air vents/areas that are prone to dust, and allow the resin to sit for ~72 hours. Why so long? This will ensure a completely cured resin!
  15. Once cured, grab your cork squares, hairdryer, and cured tiles. Flip your tiles over and turn your hair dryer on the lowest warm setting. Apply heat to the back of the cork contact paper for ~1 minute. Turn your dryer off, peel of the backing slowly so that you don't split your cork, and apply to the back of your tile. Repeat for the other tiles.
  16. Wow your friends and enjoy!
Here's a couple pictures from the process!

Here are the tiles are after a couple coats of Mod Podge, edges smoothed out, and tiles drying. You can see some brush strokes but like I said, it won't matter.

You can see that awesome, glass-like finish in the next few photos.

Here they are all packaged up and ready to gift!

I hope you'll give resin a try - it really is a lot of fun!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Peanut Butter-Banana Bread (with a slight twist)

Morning y'all!

Hope you're having a good week. Yesterday was my 25th birthday! Even though I had class and other grown-up things to do (drug tests/background checks for rotations), I enjoyed myself this past weekend and the festivities will continue throughout this week/weekend - can't wait!

So what did I do last weekend? Saturday involved this - thick snowflakes falling, coffee mugs, blankets, couches, and Chicago Fire. My Nannie, Mom and I sat on the couch all day and watched the whole season and it was fabulous. I had seen them all but they hadn't, so I had to stick around to make sure they didn't doze off during all the good parts. Seriously though - it's an awesome show . . . get on it!

All of a sudden it was mid afternoon and I had gotten the itch to make something. Didn't want things to be too involved, so I grabbed my Aida Mollenkamp book and began to browse. I've made some things from her book before (Meatballs), so I knew she wouldn't let me down. I stumbled upon her Peanut Butter-Banana Bread Recipe and was certain that I had all the ingredients that I needed. Well I didn't. I had everything but the unsalted butter. I have read her book cover to cover, so I should have known that deviating too far from the recipe may result in some changes. The bread was still a success!

Peanut Butter-Banana Bread (adapted from Aida Mollenkamp's Keys To The Kitchen)

What You'll Need

  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted (plus more for greasing your pan)
  • 1 & 2/3 C unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 & 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 & 1/2 C packed light brown sugar
  • 1 & 1/4 C mashed ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
  • 2/3 C natural crunchy peanut butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract

How To Make It
  • Heat your oven to 350F and arrange rack in the middle.
  • Grease AND flour your loaf pan (9x5in) - Aida didn't say to do this, but my crust was just a tad tough and my mom seemed to think that this would have rectified that issue.
  • Whisk together your dry ingredients - flour, baking powder, salt, allspice, and baking soda - set aside.
  • In a stand mixer with a paddle, beat your sugar, bananas, peanut butter, and melted butter on medium speed until combined.
  • Add your eggs and vanilla until just blended.
  • On low speed, add your flour mixture to your banana mixture just until incorporated.
  • Pour your batter into your greased/floured loaf pan and bake until knife/wooden pick comes out clean with a few crumbs, 55-70 minutes.
  • Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for five minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool on rack.

How was my bread different? I chose to use a half and half mixture of natural creamy peanut butter and sunflower butter. You can sub the peanut butter for any nut butter of your choosing. Definitely make sure your bananas are ripe, and definitely use unsalted butter - don't try to cut corners by omitting the salt in your flour mixture and using salted butter. You can also add nuts to your batter or on top of your bread before baking. I added walnuts to the top of mine, but may I suggest this? Watch your bread for the first 10-20 minutes - allow it to rise and then cover with foil so your nuts/top of your bread don't get too done. 

Overall, this bread was delicious and something I'll definitely make again. I served mine warm with a touch of butter and it was yum! It lasted maybe a day or two around the house, so I must have done something right!



Thursday, February 14, 2013

If We Were Having Coffee - Valentine's Day Style

If we were having coffee this morning, I'd tell you Happy Valentine's Day. Doesn't it feel good to love and be loved? I'd also tell you to grab a macaron and get comfy. 

If we were having coffee this morning, I'd tell you that making macarons is like making a baby. I equate the same amount of love of making a baby to making macarons. Seriously. They take TLC to make, you have to be gentle with them once they're cooked, and you have to dress 'em up just right with pretty colors. Baby correlation, no?

If we were having coffee this morning, I'd tell you don't make macarons - ha! Make a pie. Or a cake. These are both forgiving, equally delicious, and people will love them all the same. However, I would also tell you to grab Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery Cookbook. It's worth every cent. Just skip the macaron recipe - they're just too stressful. Delish but stressful.

If we were having coffee this morning, I'd keep it real. I'd tell you that I have a crucial exam on antibiotics tomorrow and I'm burnt out. Honestly. The month of May cannot come soon enough. O and instead of studying, I'm writing this and having virtual coffee with you -  both of which I prefer. 

If we were having coffee this morning, I'd tell you that I put these together last night for some pharmacy school peeps. It's one of the fundraisers I put together this semester. They're cute, they smell nice, and it put off studying. 

If we were having coffee this morning, I'd ask if you had plans for Valentine's Day or if there's any special Valentine in your life. Your dog? Perfect. Just a date with you, your TV, and a bottle of wine? Even better. Might I suggest Jefferson Vineyards' Pinto Gris?

I'll be studying.

And thinking about these goodies that a special someone received. What pairs better with coconut and chocolate hazelnut macarons than a Hydroflask Growler filled with Hardywood's Sidamo Coffee Stout? Nothing. Nothing I tell you. O yea - and those map things? Drink coasters. They're the best. I'll share a tute soon.

Enjoy your coffee. And your Valentine's Day


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Buffalo Chicken Dip

Did you make that guacamole yet? If not, I have another dip that might send you over the edge. 

Three words - Buffalo Chicken Dip.

See that long pause? Yea, I was letting that awesomeness sink in for a few. Buffchickdip (as it shall be referenced from here forward) has been a staple in my life ever since my first tail-gate. You might be thinking, "That sounds good but . . ." or "I've had it before and it wasn't allthatandabagofchips." Well I'm here to rid you of your uneasiness. Make you a buffchickdip believer. A connoisseur of sorts.

Over the years, I have made this more times than I can count and have given the recipe out even more times than that! That's a whole lot of goodness going around. One thing I will say is this - the ingredients you choose are key to this dip's success. I have given the recipe out to many people, and some common feedback is that their version doesn't taste the same, it's missing something, yada yada yada. Part of the reason is that their's isn't Homemade With Love - HA! Cute craft coming soon fyi. (I don't really do that for the record. Unless I know you. Really well. Kidding again. Maybe.)

So back to the ingredients. What am I recommending that you realllllly need to use? 

The most common reason that yours won't taste like mine? The wrong sauce and the wrong Ranch Dressing. I like to think I'm pretty easy going, but when it comes to salad dressings - I'm a Stepford Snob. But for real though - the wrong dressing will kill this. I also use Ranch instead of the traditional Blue Cheese for the simple fact that these flavors work best and many people don't like Blue Cheese - we're trying to be crowd pleasers 'round these parts. 

O and one more thing. Just in case you thought this recipe might in some way be healthy . . . it's not. At all. Sure you could probably switch out a few ingredients, but you know what that will get ya? The canned-cranberry-sauce-at-thanksgiving version of buffchickdip. Just saying.

The Best Buffalo Chicken Dip

What You'll Need
  • 8 ounces Philadelphia Cream Cheese
  • 8 ounces good quality, sharp cheddar cheese - shredded
  • 8 ounces Frank's Red Hot Buffalo Wing Sauce
  • 8 ounces Naturally Fresh Lite Ranch Dressing
  • 2 large or 3 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Extra cheese for baking
  • Tortilla chips for munching and serving

How To Make It
  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Next, bring medium pot of lightly salted water to boil.
  • Add raw, boneless, skinless chicken breasts to water and simmer until cooked through ~15-20 minutes.
  • While chicken is cooking, slice your package of cream cheese into 6 or 8 slices.
  • Lay slices around evenly in bottom of baking dish.
  • Evenly sprinkle shredded cheese over cream cheese.
  • Pour buffalo wing sauce and ranch dressing evenly over cheeses.
  • When chicken is finished cooking, remove from water and allow to cool. If you need to finish assembling the dip right away, you may place your chicken in the freezer to quicken cooling or in a cool water bath. 
  • Once cool, "pull" the chicken so that it ends up in thin strands/shredded like pulled barbecue meat. 
    • Some people use a Kitchenaid Mixer with paddle attachment to shred/pull chicken meat.
  • Once oven is preheated, place baking dish with mixture (no chicken) into the oven for ~8 to 10 minutes, allowing cheeses to melt.
  • Remove from oven and stir to ensure that you have a uniform, melted mixture.
  • Fold in shredded chicken making sure that it is all covered in sauce/cheese mixture.
  • Sprinkle extra cheese on top and place back into oven for ~15 to 20 minutes.
  • Remove and serve with tortilla chips.

If this isn't the best dip that has ever graced a chip, I don't know what is.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Avocado + Buffalo Chicken = Super Bowl Yummies

Hey there - hope your week is off to a great start!

I'm sure you probably watched the Super Bowl this weekend or tuned in in some capacity. Maybe you caught some of the commercials, or perhaps Beyonce's Super Bowl performance? Either way, the Super Bowl is pretty much an American holiday - at least it should be. Who's with me?

Aside from the flashy lights, NFL rivalries, and half-time performances, the only other thing more important? The food. Yep. Have you ever seen those statistics about how much pizza, wings, and avocados that we consume on Super Bowl Sunday? Talk about crazy! Go here if you haven't.

In normal fashion, I had to contribute to those statistics.

Let's talk guacamole. I am in love with it. Like seriously. We're dating. We've been going steady for a while now. I'll share him though.

Whew. Feels good to get that off my chest.

So who has the best moley? Personally, I'm a fan of Chipotle's guacamole, closely followed by Whole Foods' housemade, creamy, green goodness. Sunday morning I used my Google skills to try and find the closest version of Chipotle's guac. Much to my surprise I found this. HOW have I never found this site in all of my years of food blog/website stalking reading? Doesn't matter. Now I've found it and all of my restaurant faves will be made. That could be a good thing . . . or it could be a bad thing.

You can follow the recipe below/watch the video for the best illustration of how to make this. Just remember, don't be greedy with my guacamole - I'm sharing, remember? :)

Chipotle's Deliciously Addicting Guacamole

What You'll Need

  • 6 large, ripe avocados - peeled and pitted 
  • 3 cups fresh cilantro - chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh red onion - finely chopped
  • 12 large serrano chilies - seeded and finely chopped
  • 12 teaspoons fresh citrus juice - lime and lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 

How To Make It

  • Slice, pit, and peel your avocados out into a bowl. 
  • Sprinkle salt over avocados.
  • Juice your limes and lemons and add about 7 to 8 teaspoons of lime juice and 4 to 5 teaspoons of lemon juice to the mixture. 
  • Use a potato masher or pastry dough blender to mash the avocados just slightly. 
  • Chop cilantro, serranos, and onions and add to bowl. 
  • Use potato masher or pastry dough blender to completely mix ingredients.
  • The result? Smooth, delicious guacamole. 

See how easy that is?! Now for a few tips. Use 4 to 5 avocados that are ripe and 1 to 2 that are slightly under-ripe to achieve the best texture. Also, I don't like as much cilantro so I cut it and the salt down just a tad.

You don't need Super Bowl Sunday as a reason to make this! Make it on Sundays to have throughout the week. You could use it on Mexican/taco nights, for healthy snacking, or maybe add a spoonful to a warm bowl of chili!

Tomorrow I'll have the recipe up for Buffalo Chicken Dip - a recipe for which I'm known!