Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Gluten-Free Mini Cheesecakes with Toasted Coconut Crust



No, but really. I think one of the first things I learned to bake all by myself without adult supervision were my mom's mini cheesecakes. I think I still have the original magazine cutout, wrinkled with age and spotted with bits of cheesecake past, for our family's favorite recipe.

Usually I topped them with cherry pie filling with a single Nilla wafer playing the role of the crust. They were perfectly balanced: sweet Nilla wafers, tangy cheesecake, a refreshing fruit topping... These little cheesecakes taste like childhood, and my first attempts at creating things in the kitchen.

These mini cheesecakes are an homage to the cheesecakes of days past, but where the Nilla wafers were, now there is toasted coconut. It'd be the perfect base for a tropical twist (coconut creme in the cheesecake? topped with pineapple?) or simply as a sub for those of us who are unsure about gluten.

Why the cheesecake post? A bunch of us food bloggers just decided today was Cheesecake Day and decided to share our favorite recipes with you all. Be sure to check out the blogger pages below for more amazing cheesecakes!

Mini Cheesecakes with a Gluten-Free Crust

  • 1 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 packages cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar + 1 tbs sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cupcake tray with liners (there will be about 12).

-Over low heat, melt butter. Once melted, toss in coconut and coconut flour and the tablespoon of sugar. It should be sticky, but not liquidy.

-Press a heaping tablespoon of the coconut mixture into each liner. Place in oven to toast while you make the cheesecake (~10 minutes).

-In a stand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and sugar. Add egg and vanilla extract.

-Pour into prepared liners, and bake for 20 minutes or until set. Top with fruit topping of choice, or eat plain!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NOLA, a Vacation in Food

Note: This post is LONG and picture-heavy, be prepared!

 To say we had fun in New Orleans would be an understatement. To say that also would be a cliché, which you aren't supposed to do in writing according to my sophomore year writing workshop, but that's beside the point. We knew it'd be a fun city with so much amazing food... we didn't know that despite crappy weather, street scammers taking $20 of our VERY limited budget, and getting my car scratched after totally re-doing the back bumper just two months ago, we'd still end the trip saying "let's make this a yearly thing!" It was that awesome.

To save money, we drove. It was a LONG drive from Austin to New Orleans, but whereas plane tickets would have been at LEAST $400 apiece plus public transport or rental car, driving my little Toyota only cost $120 in gas for 4 fill-ups, which is what it took to get there and back.

Also to save money, I booked the cheapest hotel as close to the French Quarter as I could get. The Crescent Palms Motel was far from luxurious, but it was clean, had friendly staff, and it was located in a convenient area. It was not walkable to anything (and the neighborhood is a little too sketchy and your cars are locked behind a gate), but a short 5 minute car ride was all it took to get just about anywhere. I HIGHLY suggest it for budget travelers who don't care about maid service (there was none, sheets stayed the same the entire time) and have their own car. My ONLY complaints were that there was a cigarette burn in the comforter, and the non-walk-ability from anything of note nearby. Otherwise, it was perfect for our needs!

So our first day I had us up at the crack of dawn to beat the rush at Cafe du Monde. And it worked! We had a spot immediately and got to load up on beignets and delicious coffee. I got the souvenir mug for an extra $5 or so, but had I not done that our entire little breakfast would have been under $10.

Then it was off to the Deja Vu restaurant to grab a drink and wait for our tour to begin--you can grab a drink and go in NOLA, drinking on the streets is a-okay!--We chose the St. Louis Cemetery Walking Tour and it was one of the highlights of our trip. Our tour guide, Elizabeth Broussard, was extremely friendly and knowledgable and made the tour really fun to be on! I HIGHLY suggest the Free Tours By Foot--while we overslept and missed the other tour we went on, you really cannot do better for the price (which, did I mention, is FREE?? Plus a tip for your lovely guide, of course). If you can get Elizabeth, all the better! She also gives the French Quarter History Tour.

After the tour, we were hungry again. So I grabbed an incredible shrimp Poboy from Killer Poboys. It was suggested to me by multiple trusted sources, and it did not disappoint.

Crusty fresh bread sliced in half with a homemade aioli, a zesty slaw, and spicy grilled gulf shrimp... I am getting hungry just remembering it!

Cory wasn't so into the seafood sandwiches, so he grabbed some chicken at Willie's Chicken Shack. He didn't go into much detail, but he wolfed it down and said "it was good." when prompted. I asked him if it made him feel like slapping his mama and gestured to the sign behind him. He rolled his eyes, I take that as a no.

I'm sad we didn't get some legit spicy New Orleans fried chicken--next time!--but I decided to get one of NOLA's famous Hurricanes while we were there. I suggest Willie's Chicken Shack if you're looking for a short line and a potent frozen drink. I intend on using the yard stick souvenir cup as a flower vase because heaven knows I won't be ingesting this much sugary booze for a while...

Unfortunately, our reservations at the highly recommended Cochon were cancelled. Despite making them A WEEK IN ADVANCE. I was devastated--we'd saved for this trip and intended on a nice dinner out, and after much research I'd settled on Cochon since it was suggested to me by multiple people in the Food Blogger Alliance and the price was within our budget. Then they cancelled our reservation THAT DAY. So, it was a scramble to find somewhere that didn't need reservations, as it was a Friday and also the weekend of a convention, and EVERYWHERE was booked. Thumbs DOWN, Cochon, that's not very nice...

BUT, it worked out for the best: Jacques-Imo's was amazing. We wanted authentic Cajun/NOLA food, and we got it. When we arrived I was a little concerned by the decor--it was a $30/plate kind of place and it looked really kitschy--but as soon as we got our appetizer, I was sold.

The Alligator and Shrimp Cheesecake SOUNDS ridiculous, but it is one of the best things I've ever eaten! I'd never had a savory cheesecake, but now the wheels are turning as to how I can make my own. Cory had the Stuffed Pork Chop and I got the Seafood Bouillabaisse.

Cory was in a state of euphoria and I just barely made out him saying "this is the best dish I've ever had in a restaurant..." in between bites. I loved my dish but was so stuffed.

I picked out my favorite bits and sipped on the broth and did my best. It was an incredible meal, and we will definitely make this a stop on our yearly NOLA adventure!

The next day we took a swamp tour and fed marshmallows to gators. It was SO COOL and I 100% recommend the Honey Island Swamp Tours. It's a bit of a drive from the city proper, but it cost half as much as the other tours I saw ($22 verses $50-$70) and you were literally a foot from a gator in certain areas.

For lunch we were on a quest for crawfish. The boiled crawfish we get regularly at Austin's Crawfish Shack are amazing, but we figured NOLA's were the best... sadly we missed crawfish season and everyone is too cool to buy them wholesale I suppose.

We found ourselves at Deanie's Seafood. We shared some gumbo and I got the Stuffed Crab. Cory tried the Crawfish Etouffé but it ended up being a bit too heavy for him.

My crab was mostly bread. Disappointing, especially with the 45 minute wait we had, but it quelled our seafood craving at least.  Next time I'll go for the drinks, as the fishbowls looked pretty legit, but hopefully we'll get there before crawfish season ends next time.

There are FOUR Emerson grads in this picture.

Later in the day I met up with my old friend from my study abroad program: Kelsey! She and her boyfriend Paul showed us the "locals" spots, like the Old Point Bar and R Bar.

However, our favorite by far was Buffa's! Off the beaten path a bit, it's a restaurant, bar, and music venue. When we went the the Royal Rounders were playing jazz and they were just incredible. At one point the trumpet player popped up from a table behind us and joined the band. Super great!

Cory got a chicken sandwich and I got some spicy wings. I was expecting the medium wings in a city known for spice to be spicier than normal, but they actually tasted mild.

That was fine by me though, as there were an assortment of hot sauces to supplement the spice with (I'm guessing over 50! I tasted at least 10). I went with a habanero one that definitely did the trick. Plus the drinks were reasonably priced, and the entertainment was awesome.

Finally, our last meal the following day in New Orleans was in the Garden District, on Magazine Street. We tried to get a spot at Commander's Palace since we had a bit of extra cash to drop, and AGAIN it had been suggested by foodie friends as being quintessential NOLA, but the doorman didn't inform us that our attire was not up to dress code standards when he welcomed us in. The conversation with the host went something like this...
"Are you open for lunch?"
"It's brunch."
"... so brunch then? Can we see a menu?"
He then went on to seat the people in line behind us. I was a little miffed, and went to leave and grabbed a complimentary map, which had a menu on it. There it said that men were not permitted to wear shorts, and only collared t-shirts were allowed. Since we both had on t-shirts and shorts, we could not eat there. COOL, I get it, but maybe TELL your potential guests that instead of sticking your nose up at them? Thanks. Cool. I may have tried you guys again next time I'm in town with the right dress code on, but now I probably won't.

So we found ourselves on Magazine Street, spending our money comfortably in our shorts instead. We ended up at The Rum House. I was a biiiit hungover from our jazzy barventures the night before, and I was craving a burger but they didn't have one. So I got the Jamaican Beef Patties. Cory got the taco plate with a Brisket Taco with Mango Salsa and a Pulled Pork Taco with Mole sauce. Both our lunches were EXTREMELY tasty. Enough spice and sustenance to bring me out of my lingering hangover and get me bright eyed and bushy tailed for the long drive home. Sadly I could not, nor did I want to, partake in the enormous fishbowls that Rum House had here, but I made a mental note for next time.

And then we drove home. While driving to and from NOLA we ended up at Popeye's and Outback Steakhouse respectively, but those weren't anything of note. I likened eating Popeye's in Louisiana to having Taco Bell in Mexico, and felt slightly ashamed. Oh well. Overall, the trip was wonderful and I had so much fun! I didn't bore you all with the details of EEEEVERYTHING we did since this post is long enough, but rest assured we had a jam-packed long weekend. Cannot wait to return again!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bourbon Vanilla Cupcakes with Peach Buttercream

I never was one to enjoy hard liquor or beers, back in my early days of being a social drinker. If it didn't taste like fruit and ten different kinds of sugar, I was not interested. Bring on the Pina Coladas and Kamikaze shots! And bring me ALL YOUR SMIRNOFF ICES, STAT.

College. Amirite?

Not surprisingly, this led to many a hangover and a rainbow of different colors of vomit. (Sorry, that probably doesn't get you excited for food, does it?) Thankfully, these days not only is my regular intake of liquor at least half what it used to be, but my palate has evolved.

Recently, I've been kind of into bourbon. Nothing too fancy, just what I can afford on sale at Specs, the best liquor superstore I've ever encountered THANK YOU TEXAS, but still. I drink it on the rocks with a bit of ice and sip it on my porch while facing the Texas heat at the end of a long day.

However, sugar tooths die hard. And that's why I decided bourbon cupcakes would be pretty dang amazing. And peach, because Texas peaches are some of the best.

Vanilla Bourbon Cupcakes with Peach Buttercream
(cupcake recipe adapted from Wonky Wonderful)
For the Cupcakes

  • 11/2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (vanilla bourbon if you have it!)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
For the Glaze

  • 1/2 cup peach flavored bourbon (OR 1/4 cup bourbon + 1/4 cup peach nectar)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar

For the Frosting
(note: there will be a LOT, reserve the extra to put on fruit)

  • 1 stick butter, room temp
  • 1/2 ripe peach
  • 2 tsp peach vodka
  • 2-4 cups confectioner's sugar

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

-In a medium bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients for cupcakes. Set aside.

I-n the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Once light and fluffy, add the rest of the wet ingredients and mix until well combined.

-Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix together until there are no lumps. Fill cupcake wells (lined with liners or greased) 2/3 full.

-Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a cooling rack.

-While cupcakes are baking, prepare glaze: mix together all glaze ingredients and simmer over high heat until reduced by half and syrupy.

-Use a fork to prick holes in the top of each cupcake. Pour glaze over warm cupcakes, about a tablespoon each. Let cool before frosting.

-While cupcakes are cooling, prepare frosting. In a stand mixer on high, mix the peach until it is pureed. Add butter and vodka, then slowly add the confectioner's sugar until desired consistency is reached.

Note: I ran out of sugar before the frosting was stiff enough to pipe, but the drippy frosting ended up looking fun and rustic and worked just fine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Healthy Solution Spice Blends Review

 I've been on a shrimp kick lately. Though it's kind of pricey this far from the shore, it's still a perfect summer food. Light, tasty, and versatile.

That's why, when I was asked to try a Healthy Solutions Spice Blend, Shrimp Scampi was a no-brainer.

Most Healthy Solutions Spice Blends are no salt, no sugar spice blends that are meant to kick up your family recipes and keep them tasty AND healthy. Not to mention, the blends are a lot less expensive than buying each individual herb and spice to make your own.

So far, I've tried two of the Healthy Solutions Spice Blends that I was sent, and both were a hit at my little household. First, the Ultimate Burger blend. I used this to jazz up our Memorial Day "cook in" burgers, and they were delicious. Simply mix the seasonings into the burger (I also used a bread and milk mix to ensure a moist burger!) and grill. Or, in my case, use your cast iron grill pan because it's raining outside, heh.

Next up, the scampi. This one involved just a few other ingredients in addition to the spice blend and shrimp: wine, olive oil, noodles, and diced tomatoes. I also added a hefty shake or two of red pepper flakes, as I like my shrimp with a little bit of spice. Instead of noodles, I used spaghetti squash that I tossed with butter and truffle oil with a bit of parm.

Overall, the spice blends are great to have on hand to jazz up your family favorites, or to ensure your meals are healthy while still being tasty (and most no added salt or sugar is a bonus!). I'm not one to cook a lot with spice blends, as I typically have the herbs and spices in my pantry to make my own, but these are great for home cooks to have in their arsenal who are just starting out.

Check out their full offering on their website.

Please note: I was given free samples to facilitate this review. However, all opinions are my own, and I would never back a product I did not believe in.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Frustrations and Such - Paleo Sweet Potato Hash Brown Patties

 Have you ever noticed how easy it is to get frustrated? Seriously, it's the easiest thing. Something doesn't go your way, or you take a misstep or make a mistake, and it is SO easy to just fall into a rut and feel the pressure all around.

I've noticed that feeling a lot lately. Frustration. Things not going according to plan. Not having time, or money, or energy to do things that I feel like I want to do, or should do.

"When all else fails... pet the dog."

Like this blog, for example. I've been slacking so hard, and I know it. I get frustrated. Why don't I have the skills to make amazing recipes and take amazing photos? Why do I feel like I'm talking to an empty room? Why have I been doing this for four years when it costs me more money than it makes? And then I remember the answer: because I need to PUT time, and sometimes money, into it to make it work and get it to the place I want it to be. Do the good work and good things will follow.

At least it doesn't look like this anymore...
This was a REAL RECIPE POST circa 2011, yikes.

It's easy to get frustrated, and then it's easy to get envious. Don't get me wrong, I am SO happy for blogs I love to "go viral" or get a book deal or even hit the 5k, 10k, 20k marks on followers. But I do get jealous. I think the two can go hand in hand.

Also, all the frustration feelings (not just blog-related, but this is my blog, so that's the example I gave) could totally be PMS. It happens.

And often, the frustrating feelings often subside, and I am able to focus on the positive again. I love what I do. I love where I live. And I love the rush of creating a recipe totally from my own head. I love this blog, and while I knowww it needs a lot of help design-wise and my photography could be better, it's mine.

Another thing I get frustrated about? My diet. I haven't lost the weight I keep saying I want to, keep making excuses. So I made brunch. And I made it Paleo because that's the diet I feel like I can stick to the best. One that is still filling and satisfying. The exercise will come, once I can find a plan I'll actually stick to.

These hash browns are gluten free, paleo, and delicious. I use them as a vehicle for drippy, gooey eggs and avocado. With a splash of salsa they make the perfect brunch.

Sweet Potato Hash Brown Patties
1-2 large sweet potatoes, shredded (squeeze out excess moisture with a paper towel or cheesecloth)
1 egg
2 tbs almond flour
1 tsp coconut flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Cajun seasoning or cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
cooking oil of your choice (I used coconut)

-Heat cooking oil over medium-high heat. If doing a large batch, turn on oven to 250 degrees F to keep hash browns warm in between batches.

-While oil is heating, mix together the shredded hashbrowns and egg. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients.

-With a fork or your hands, mix the dry ingredients into the wet. Form mixture into patties and press together firmly.

-In small batches, fry in oil until crispy on both sides--about 2 minutes per side. Serve on their own or as a base for a delicious eggy brunch.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Plated Review - Bloody Mary Shrimp and Flank Steak Gyros

Before we begin: I LOVE how the pictures of the shrimp came out... the steak, not so much. Just goes to show how important natural lighting is!

So, if you're here on my blog, I can deduce one thing: you like food. Either you're a food blogger who's checking out the competition/making friends/expanding your network OR you're a home cook who's trying to learn the ropes and are hopeful I can help you out.

If either of these things are true, and you have a Facebook account, you have definitely seen this deal going around: Four Free Meals for New Members! Sounds too good to be true, right?


Look at this deliciousness.

For the cost of shipping (~$20) you'll get enough ingredients and instructions to make four meals. For me, that meant two recipes with two plates each. It looked like an amazing deal to me, and I'd been wanting to try the service, so I jumped at the opportunity to check it out. I didn't know what to expect, I knew the company was legit so I wasn't too worried about the "too good to be true" aspect.

Lately, I've been coming home from work not wanting to cook–crazy, right??–but since the box came delivered to my office and the stuff was obviously perishable, I poured myself a glass of wine and got to work. I was pleasantly surprised.

All the ingredients were fresh, and the instructions were super easy to follow. Plus, the recipes were SUPER tasty and very unique. I chose the Flank Steak Gyros with Pesto and the Bloody Mary Shrimp. Both were absolutely fantastic. I wish I'd made the gyros earlier in the day, unfortunately the pictures came out kind of gross due to artificial light. Oh well!

I would do this every week if I could, but unfortunately the price point is way out of my budget. Before the intro offer, the whole she-bang (4 meals, 2 recipes) would have been $70 or more. It comes out to $12-$15 per meal, and $20 for shipping. However, this is a GREAT way to learn new recipes (I'm keeping both in my stash to re-make again for sure!) and would be a fun date night or girls night in activity.

I can see myself doing this in the future if I'm feeling uncreative in the kitchen and want to jazz it up a bit. If I had the money though, I'd totally do it more often.

Check out Plated!