October 2014 archive

Disney in the Fall

If you know me or if you don’t you will easily learn, Disney World is a special place to me. It’s the only place I can visit that’s covered in cheesy tourism. In fact, I fully embrace the tourism and join the herds of people who want to experience all of the magic that is Disney. Chris took me there for my birthday a couple of weeks ago and it was nothing short of magical. I have always gone in the summertime but I am leaving those days behind me, along with the humidity. Here is a glimpse of my trip. I am going to be the worst mother in that my children won’t have too many pictures from their childhood. I never think to take a picture until after the fact so enjoy! (more…)

This is the number one reason anyone needs to come to Disney in the Fall. Unreal.

We spent a lot of time (and money) at the Food and Wine Festival. There are so many countries offering you sweet and savory treats along with drinks that represent their country. You see how this could get dangerous?

This was taken when we were half way around the world showcase in Italy. We were very happy and giggly.

Chris loves Disney and his Woody Mickey ears. Isn’t Mainstreet just adorable?

The Magic Star. Our favorite drink in Disney. It’s hardly enough alcohol to feel anything but we get them anyways. We have a collection of light up ice cubes from our many magic stars at Disney.

The Magic Kingdom goes all out for Halloween, making it extra special. I loved this view of the castle.

They also have a special set of fireworks for Halloween.

Among all of the magical Halloween fun, we also experienced some amazing food at some of our favorite spots. Here are some must eats if you are in Disney. I’m sure there are more I am leaving out but my wallet and tummy are thanking me right about now.

Jiko the cooking place is some of the best food and ambience in Disney. Located in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Jiko offers you the best wine options in Disney, along with food that will blow you away. It’s African themed so we were a little nervous if we would like our meals but once our first course came out, our nervousness turned into full blown foodie excitement. What to get at Jiko: Wild Boar Tenderloin and the Tour of Africa for appetizers, and the slow cooked short rib or filet mignon for dinner. We were way too full for dessert but I saw the desserts on other guests’ tables and I was a little jealous.

Trails End Breakfast Buffet is a tradition but for the money you spend and what you get, it’s worth it. Plus, the adorable frontier theme always sends me back to my childhood. Their pulled pork eggs benedict is featured on the buffet and is by far the best item on the menu.

Ohana is our favorite place, wherein you are offered a plethora of meats, veggies, and noodles until your tummy is about to burst. The meat is in a delicious marinade and is always cooked perfectly. If you get dinner reservations close to the fireworks time in the Magic Kingdom, you can watch them from your table at Ohana. Plus, you can get a tropical drink served right out of a pineapple.

Le Cellier is located in Canada, which is part of Epcot’s World Showcase. The cozy, steakhouse atmosphere makes for a romantic spot if your dinner reservations are past 7. As with all of the Disney restaurants, earlier dinners mean eating with a lot of children who are hungry and getting on their parents’ last nerve. What to get at Le Cellier: the poutine with red wine reduction and canadian cheddar as an appetizer, the filet mignon with mushroom risotto for dinner, the loaded mashed potatoes and burgundy mushrooms for sides, and the creme brulee for dessert.

There are so many other restaurants and experiences I didn’t mention but if you are ever given the chance, check out Disney. It’s pure magic.

Sweet and Spicy Chili

Everyone has their favorite chili recipe and I won’t try to convince you this is the best chili you will ever have. First thing, I’m not from a place that I can earn the title of “best chili ever”. Secondly, I think chili is a personal thing: you make it how you like it. This is how I like my chili. Just a little bit of beans, a nice smokey, spicy kick, and a hint of sweetness. When my mom would make chili growing up, I would raid the cabinets for that Heinz chili sauce that was slightly sweet. When it came time for me to start making my own chili, I felt like a new world had just appeared before my eyes. I could make my chili any way I wanted to. Don’t want kidney beans? No big deal. Need a little more cumin? Done. Want to use ground turkey instead? Perfect. Among being very versatile and forgiving to particular tastes, chili is also a great make ahead meal, a freezer friendly meal, perfect for a crowd or for leftovers, and a great meal if you are on a budget. The cold weather is coming in full throttle so let’s embrace a bowl of chili! (more…)

Our chili ingredient line up:

From Top Left to Right: Ground beef, black and pinto beans, tomato sauce, a spice mixture of cumin, chili powder, paprika, and oregano, brown sugar, and fresh garlic. The perfect blank slate.

Now, before we dive into making our chili, I have this picture here to serve as both a lesson and a reminder. Every 6 months, change out your spices! I made an example of myself when I made this chili. Once I added everything into the chili, I tasted it to see where the spice was. After 3 tablespoons of chili powder, there still wasn’t any kick to the chili. I then tasted my chili powder and do you want to know what it tasted like? Nothing. I had to grab the Sriracha bottle to give the chili some heat. That is pitiful friends. Don’t let this happen to you. On a more positive note, Sriracha in chili is awesome.

Moving on to the reason we are all here: chili! Our meat is browned, our spices are added, our tomato sauce poured. This baby is checked for seasoning and is ready to simmer. If you don’t like beans in your chili, your labor ends here.

But, if you want some bean action, our beans are added after the chili has been simmering for a little while.

I always forget how good and comforting chili can be until I make a batch. I love having leftover chili because (say it with me): IT’S ALWAYS BETTER THE NEXT DAY.

Sour cream, red onion, and sharp cheddar are a must topping for my chili. How do you take your chili? Happy chili making!

Campfire Bark

Happy National Chocolate Day! I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday than to celebrate chocolate, too! Lucky me! In honor of the special occasions, I made you some chocolate bark; campfire bark to be exact! Have you ever made candy bark before? I’m addicted. I make a crunchy peppermint dark chocolate bark for Christmas so I thought Fall and Halloween deserved a bark all their own. This bark isn’t for the faint of heart, though. It’s incredibly sweet and chocolatey; a little bite goes a long way. The base is chocolate studded with crunchy cereal then topped with marshmallow and cookie butter. This is better than a S’more. Barks are super simple and fast to make! Plus, YOU get to choose what goes into it! It’s very versatile. I dream about which bark I can make next. Campfire bark is the perfect treat for any Halloween party; the perfect pick up and eat snack. Happy Halloween Week! (more…)

Our ingredient line up:

From Top Left to Right: Golden grahams cereal, cookie butter (this is from Trader Joe’s, if you don’t have a TJ’s near you, look for Speculoos in your peanut butter aisle), marshmallow fluff, and semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Over a make shift double boiler, melt your chocolate. You might be tempted to put your chocolate into the microwave but don’t. There are greater chances of it seizing on you and you will be back at square one. Heating it in a bowl over a pot of simmering water, will allow you to keep an eye on it as it melts. Once melted, mix in the cereal and spread on a baking sheet. Parchment paper or a silpat are key here.

Then, we get real fancy. Our heated marshmallow fluff is plopped down onto the chocolate. We use a tip of a knife to swirl the fluff into the chocolate.

Just when you thought this decadent madness was finished, cookie butter is drizzled over everything. Have you had cookie butter? I never buy it because I could eat it by the jar.

The bark needs to set in the fridge for a bit then we can break it into pieces.

Roasted Bacon Meatballs

The best meatball I ever had was in Boston. Chris and I had ventured there on a whim to get him a tattoo; 8 hours on a train, just to be in Boston for the day. My, we were adventurers back in our dating days! The day was spent strolling the busy and historic streets of the city, finding cozy little restaurants and sub shops in the most unexpected places. Getting down poured on with no spare clothing for the long trek home is also a nice memory. It was actually a great trip looking back (maybe because we don’t take as many trips nowadays). One of my favorite memories is aimlessly wandering the wet, shiny streets in hopes of a good meal. We love Italian food so that is what we always look for while in a new city. There was a small restaurant, tucked into a larger building. It was burnt orange and had cute little windows. I wish I remembered its name. Any who, after rushing around all day, mainly on foot, and being incredibly soaked, we walked in. We were seated up against a wall and almost uncomfortably close to the people sitting next to us. It was cozy and perfect. What made it more perfect was my dinner. I didn’t care about anything else but the meatballs on my plate. I want to be those meatballs when I grow up.
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Since it’s getting cold and all, I like to feature comfort food. We all could use a little more comfort. In my list of top 3 comfort foods, meatballs are definitely included. And the best part is: they are a cinch to make. I bake mine, making the process so much easier and less messy. I use bacon instead of just ground pork because it adds the perfect smokiness and richness for a meatball. Tons of pecorino romano and fresh parsley make these meatballs so cheesy and fresh tasting. I like to make a big batch and freeze them. Perfect cure for a busy, cold day! Please make these! Your life is about to change. Are you ready?
Our meatball ingredient line up: From Top Left to Right: Ground beef, garlic (lots and lots), parsley, eggs, cream, bacon (it’s finely minced so it just melts into our meatballs), onion, pecorino romano, basil, and fresh breadcrumbs.

This! This is all I need! So much yummy in one picture. Take a fork and combine all of that yumminess.

Get your baking sheets ready! I like to use a small ice cream scoop to measure out 2 tablespoons of mixture. You could obviously make them bigger, they just might need to cook a little longer.

While our meatballs are in the oven, we make our sauce! I like to use red wine in place of sugar in tomato sauces. It adds a sweetness and depth that sugar really just doesn’t have. Always fresh herbs here!

See that? All of that wonderful cheese has melted. I like to call them my little flat bottoms because they aren’t perfectly round since they are baked.

Eat them with your spaghetti, eat them in a sub roll, or serve them as an appetizer. You are going to love these! Happy meataballa making!

Thyme Chicken Pasta Bake with Mushrooms and Fennel

Pasta bake. I think it sounds a little bit more dignified than just a “casserole”. Not that there is anything wrong with a good casserole, they have just gotten a bad rap through the years. I don’t know if it’s because of the less than fresh contents inside of the casserole or just the thought of making it for one dinner and having leftovers for days. Growing up, my mom made a simple casserole we always looked forward to. It was mini pasta shells, canned tuna, a dash of cayenne pepper, and the liquid gold itself, velveeta cheese. I loved the spiciness and comfort of the dish. I also long for the days where the taste of velveeta overrides the guilt of eating something that isn’t actual cheese. Casseroles are great for the colder months but also great for families on the run. I’m all about the Make Once Get Two out of the deal meals where you make one for dinner and freeze the other. Just pop it in the oven whenever you get the hankering for a cozy but quick meal. Now, doesn’t that sound better? (more…)

Instead of opening a can of this, a container of that, and dumping it into a pan to be baked, I opted for a fresher take here. This pasta bake is inspired by one of our favorite dishes in Colonial Williamsburg. It consists of crepes stuffed with chicken and mushrooms and baked in a creamy sauce. It’s the perfect cure after a long and cold day of walking the cobblestone streets. Instead of making crepes, I substituted with pasta. I also added some licoricey (not a word, sorry!) fennel that sweetens as it cooks. Thyme makes everything a little bit better with it’s lemony yet slightly smokey flavor. It’s perfect for the cold months ahead and even more perfect with a glass of your favorite white wine!

The ingredient line up:

From Top Left to Right: Parmesan, garlic, shredded chicken (don’t get me started on my rotisserie chicken rant, it’s a life saver), milk, nutmeg, fresh thyme, breadcrumbs, onion, flour, fennel, cream, butter, and mushrooms. Somewhere in there is the pasta too. You just can’t see it. But it’s there. I didn’t forget it.

We make a rich, creamy sauce with our onions and fennel. Then, we just throw everything in. You won’t miss that canned stuff one bit!

Throw in our pasta. It doesn’t get easier. I love how the farfalle look here.

After a little oven time, the top gets brown and crunchy. Sprinkle with parsley to add a little color. I didn’t have any parsley… This is warm, comforting, and so simple to throw together. Perfect for the rainy, cold weather we will be having this weekend! Happy pasta making!

Oatmeal Cookie Apple Crisp

I know you’ve been apple picking and I know you are up to your ears in apples. I’m trying to help you. Just hear me out. Apple crumbles all day. Or apple crisps if you like. Or apple cobbler. Or apple brown betty. It’s up to you! One thing I want to put to rest today, though. The difference between the desserts I just mentioned. When I began my blogging adventure, I wanted to make sure I was being “politically” correct when titling my recipes. I know I wasn’t the only one confused so here ya go! It is one of those things that will be debated until forever but I’m going to stick to this explanation: The difference between cobblers, crisps, and crumbles. But in all seriousness, if you are baking delicious fruit with warm spices and making your house smell amazing, no one gives a rip what you call the thing. Just be sure to serve with ice cream. (more…)

This crisp was such a pretty lady. I took waaay too many pictures but she’s just so photogenic. Like, do you really want anything else? I know this crisp isn’t too original, except for its topping. Instead of the usual streusel topping we all know and love, I decided to melt my butter and make more of a cookie topping. Oatmeal cookies are so comforting and full of flavor, I thought nothing could be better atop bubbling, juicy apples. I had all of the pure intentions in the world of adding dried cherries (instead of raisins) to the topping but realized I had forgotten said cherries on my grocery list. Next time dried cherries. Next time.

Our crisp ingredients (pun intended):

From Top Left to Right: Apples (make sure they are full of flavor and are sweet), sugar, melted butter (maybe my guilt was trying to crop the butter out of the picture), spice mixture #1, walnuts, brown sugar, vanilla, flour, fresh orange juice (trust me), spice mixture #2 (can we pretend I didn’t say #2 on a food blog? K, thanks), and oats.

We mix our apples with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, sugar, flour, orange juice, and vanilla. That’s it for the filling! Wasn’t that easy peasy? You could just bake this if you wanted to without the cookie topping but why would you want to? Why? Oh and do you like how I didn’t peel my apples? I had a hungry husband and mother in law giving me the “if you take one more picture of food…” stare.

Our dry ingredients are mixed then made undry (sooo not a word), by our butter. I use salted butter whenever butter is needed so I didn’t add more salt here. If you use unsalted, add some salt for balance. The dried cherries would want it that way.

Then, all we do is use bowl A to top pie plate B. Get those clean paws ready for some dirty work!

Voila! Isn’t that so dazzling? It was right here I realized I didn’t use the full amounts of brown sugar and granulated sugar the recipe calls for. Wanna see what happens next? Click this link! Jk. Just scroll down.

I literally sprinkled the dang sugars over the cookie topping. What’s a desperate girl to do? Don’t be like me. Use the full amount of everything. Please and thank you. Isn’t it prettier, though? It looks as if it was kissed by a snow angel. Sorry I just said snow. Too soon?

We bake until, you guessed it, hot and bubbling. Use the sharp point of a knife to make sure the apples are soft. Serve in ridiculously adorable plates.

Do you know they make salted caramel ice cream that is sold in grocery stores? Well, I do. Happy crisp making!

Cinema Paradiso: Gone Girl

David Fincher

Although he is well respected as a filmmaker, David Fincher is rarely spoken as one of our modern visionary auteur in the same vain as his peers, P.T. Anderson, Tarantino or Soderbergh. Why is that? For one, he has never solely written any of the films he has directed, which would give the impression of being a director for hire. Secondly, from the start of his career, he has worked in mostly commercial films under the studio system, therefore he never had to “struggle for his art”. Lastly, he doesn’t have much of a mythology in which he is an outspoken “rock star”, such as Tarantino nor is he a hermit, who comes out of his cave of ideas every four years to give us a film like P.T. Anderson. Instead, he manages to be reserved, while giving honest interviews about his work and continues making some of the best television commercials you’ll see, simply out of the pleasure to work in the medium. The underrated uniqueness to Fincher is his ability to take a subject matter that seems uninteresting, like the creation of Facebook (The Social Network) or something that seems mediocre on paper involving a house invasion thriller (Panic Room) to a level of vast appeal but yet with one of a kind artistic view. This time around, Fincher was fortunate to get a screenplay: Gone Girl, which was written by Gillian Flynn (who wrote the novel also) that was highly interesting on paper. (more…)

Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne, who on the morning of his 5th year anniversary, comes home after bar tending only to realize his wife has disappeared with what appeared to be a violent struggle in their home. Nick becomes the focal point of the investigation of the disappearance of his wife as his peculiar behavior and evidence mounts up against him. Once the investigation hits the national stage, every step Nick makes is dissected, while personal demons are discovered, giving all the more reason for him to be guilty of the crimes.
Obviously, with a “who dunit” it’s hard to get into much details of the film without giving much away. So bear with me on this one. What can be said is this may be Fincher’s most interesting film when discussing tonal change of acts within a picture. He inhabits his lead character’s point of view in way we haven’t seen him do before. Films, especially films in this thriller nature, change tones quite often towards the end of film as things are revealed but not at all like Gone Girl does. What starts as a Hitchcockian “the wrong man” film, turns into an Albert Brooks comedy mid way through, which somehow gracefully evolves into a sexual thriller towards the end. This is all do to Fincher’s maturity of pacing in his films, something that was cultivated most excellently in his masterpiece, Zodiac. Something that is often overly mentioned in discussing Fincher’s work is style over substance, which may have been fair in speaking about Seven or even Fight Club but with Gone Girl the tonal styles in which he takes makes Gillian Glynn (writer of the novel and screenplay) story all the more better to avoid any thoughts of ridiculousness. This is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ third score for a Fincher film, helps contribute to the tonal changes through out the picture in perhaps their best musical score to date.
The performances are truly terrific in this film. So well acted it should put to rest the notion of Fincher not being concerned with performances in his films (most famously that of Jake Gyllenhaal, an okay actor complains of Fincher’s direction style in Zodiac). Ben Affleck plays Nick Dunne quite well, in what may be a meta performance for him, in that it closely reflects the ups (Good Will Hunting), downs (Gigli), and triumph ups again (Argo) of his Hollywood career. It’s really a joy to watch a movie star do a non movie star performance such as Affleck does here. Carrie Coon (who plays Nick’s twin sister Margo) was already having a breakout year with her performance in the television show, The Leftovers. She shines bright in this film stealing every scene she is in without appearing to try to steal every scene. I look forward to seeing what she does with a chance to be the lead in a film. Never having seen a Tyler Perry film or performance, I didn’t know what to expect from the already established actor. Perry brings humor and bravado as Nick Dunne’s charming, yet expensive lawyer, Tanner Bolt (the name says it all). The performance that truly deserves praise in this film is that of Rosamund Pike (The World’s End, Jack Reacher), who plays the missing wife, Amy Dunne. Prior to this you may only have recognized Pike has the eye candy in action movies or the older sister in Pride and Prejudice. SOME SERIOUS SPOILER STUFF FOR THE NEXT THREE SENTENCES. Pike in Gone Girl gives an eye opening performance as the supposed victim turned master manipulator to her husband and the many people who believe she is missing or dead. I really don’t want to give much away on what her character does but just imagined Catherine Tramell and Keyser Soze had a kid, it would probably turn out be just like Amy Dunne. Pike’s performance as Amy is a sprawling one, that asks her to be convincible victim terrified, darkly funny and a horrifying psychopath, at any given time. Not sure it’s the kind of performance that would get her an Oscar nomination but one that she should be getting praise for executing such a joggling act.
The fun of this movie for me is it’s an homage to the sexual thrillers of the late 80’s and early 90’s that I wasn’t allowed to see as a kid. You can’t help but think of Fatal Attraction or Sleeping With The Enemy when watching this picture. With that said, Gone Girl’s insight on marital frustrations are all its own a modern view of the class system that can arise in a marriage of two completely different people with two completely different needs for to accomplish happiness.

Mustard Maple Chicken Stuffed Delicata Squash

When Chris and I lived in LA, we swore there was Fall. Yes, we may have been swimming in sweat and yes, we may have been abusing our window unit air conditioner but we pretended. We visited a pumpkin patch off of Sunset Blvd that had huge (fake) pumpkins you could stand in. I remember eating a midnight snack at Fred 62, who festively placed a pumpkin sign on top of the restaurant. Eating fish tacos and an ice cold margarita only days before Halloween isn’t exactly the way to celebrate the season for a Marylander. So the Fallish recipes began in our very small kitchen. Roasted pumpkin with rosemary and slow cooked short ribs braised in a deep, red wine sauce were only a few I became mildly obsessed with. I do remember a pumpkin ice cream pie in there somewhere, too. Can I just say something? As much as California rocks, I never want to miss a Maryland Fall ever…ever. (more…)

This! This is Fall all rolled up into a cute squash package. Mustard maple chicken stuffed squash. Need I say more? I was first introduced to delicata squash last year. I heard you don’t have to peel its skin and actually, after it has been cooked, you can eat it! Sounds like an easy dinner to me! This delightful squash is stuffed with a chicken, mushroom (sorry if you hate ’em!), and leek mixture that is doused with a mustard maple sauce. Serving everything in a squash shell makes a great presentation. I am totally tempted to make just the filling and eat it as is, but the squash really makes it feel like a meal and extra Fall-like.

Let’s meet our ingredient line up!

From Top Left to Right: Delicata squash (nice to meet you!), walnuts, chicken, maple syrup (this is not Aunt Jemima’s time to shine), leeks, a mustard combo of ground mustard and Dijon, breadcrumbs, fresh thyme, red wine vinegar, and mushrooms (sorry I’m not sorry).

The leeks and mushrooms are sauteed before added to the mixture. Almost everything is thrown into a bowl. I made my mustard sauce first then added it in. I like to taste for seasoning and make sure I don’t need more mustard or maple syrup.

Our precious squash is cooked first then filled with the stuffing. It’s mustardy, sweet, crunchy, herby, yummy? I got carried away with the y’s. Look at those colors. Don’t you just wanna?
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Just top those pretty thangs with parmesan and breadcrumbs. Use a couple of thyme stems for garnish if you like. I need this…again. It’s so simple and stunning to throw together, this could even grace your Thanksgiving table. Maybe just take out the chicken and add more veggies (chicken on turkey action? no thanks!). Happy squash making! ‘Tis the season!

Breakfast for Dinner

So my plan for the section, “Dinner Plans” was to show you meals I make throughout the week that aren’t really a recipe but something that might inspire you for a quick and simple dinner. Since I work full time and by the time we eat, it is now dark outside, I started to shy away from this segment. Natural light is best when taking pictures of food and by the time dinner is made there isn’t any natural light, I didn’t want to post a pic that wasn’t up to my standards. But I’ve had a change of heart! I won’t let lamp lighting get the best of me! So here it goes! Dinner Plans: The Dark Ages. Glad you’re here with me! (more…)

One dinner I can always easily throw together is breakfast. Scrambled eggs, omelettes, fritattas, fried eggs are all on my mind when making dinner. I also use breakfast for dinner as an opportunity to use up any veggies that are almost going bad. This dinner is scrambled eggs with butter, roasted bacon (the new way to cook bacon), and garlic parsley mushrooms and onions. Place bacon on a sheet pan and roast at 375 for about 12-15 minutes, depending on what you like your bacon to be like (crispy, chewy, etc). Saute onions until translucent, add baby bella mushrooms. Once water has evaporated from mushrooms add garlic and thyme. Cook for another minute then add parsley. You are done! PS. I always love a leetle bit of mayo on my egg sandwich. It’s a Cracker Barrel thing! Happy dinner making!