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Thursday, March 24, 2011

A trip to temptation island...

Giving up sweets for 40 days has proven challenging already. For some, it's a piece of cake (no pun intended), but for others like me, it's a daily struggle. Candy, desserts and anything comprised of butter, sugar and eggs have always been a daily staple in my life.

Honest to goodness, my first word as an infant was Da Da, and my second was chocolate (I kid you not). I get it from my Mom what can I say? She's the same way. When I go home to visit, she always has a cake or something sweet waiting for me. We tell ourselves that "we're only going to have a bite," but when that cake becomes your breakfast (hey...I said eggs right?), after lunch snack and bedtime nightcap, you know you have an addiction. That's one reason I wanted to give them up because I knew it was getting a little out of hand...well...give them up for 40 days (there is nooooooooo guarantee after that).

It's funny, I've been off sweets for two weeks and the longer I stay away, the more apparent they become in my daily existence. For example, I went to Fresh Market the other day to pick up a few things and instead spent the trip gazing at the candy bar in the middle of the store. I literally circled the island of tooth decay five or six times. 

A store worker came up to me twice asking if I needed some help finding something, but all I wanted to do was look. Look with a possible drool as I read each label so carefully (chocolate covered almonds, chocolate covered malt balls, chocolate covered peanut butter balls, the list goes on and on...) remembering what little I could of their taste. I admired the little gems as long as I could without breaking down, reaching my hand into that jar and stuffing my face just like a kid playing Chubby Bunny.

I am hoping simple trips to the grocery store will get easier as time progresses, but for now, it's just a trip to temptation island.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mac-n-Cheese: Upscale twist to a classic favorite...

A weekend over at my friend Lindsay's house is always a treat. She is an excellent cook with a sensational ability to find delicious recipes that have an upscale twist. There isn't much that this cool chick can't cook (actually...I can't think of anything).  She amazes me in life and in the kitchen, and she did once again when I spent the weekend with her recently while her husband was out of town.

While I played with her adorable son (almost eight months), she whipped us up Truffle Mac-n-Cheese. The star ingredient she used was oil infused with truffles. The only truffle I ever really knew before this was the chocolate ones from Godiva. Hard chocolate outside...soft, creamy inside filled with hazelnuts, peanut butter or better yet...more chocolate.

Actually, the type of truffle I'm referring to today is a type of mushroom. They are wild and rare and have a earthy and pungent taste. Doesn't sound so great does it? Actually, mixed with cheese and pasta and these little shrooms are actually quite tasty.  Truffles can be incredibly expensive because of their scarcity, but using truffle oil cuts down on cost and still keeps a great taste.

It's delicious and very easy to make. This dish is powerful enough to be the main course or as a ritzy side dish. It's heaven on a plate and goes perfectly with a chick flick and the gas logs burning (that's what we did)!

I asked her for the recipe and she has happily shared it with me so I can pass it on to you. Enjoy!

Truffle Mac-n-Cheese

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups cooked cavatappi pasta
1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs (equal parts rosemary, thyme and basil)
1/4 cup infused white truffle oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup Japanese bread crumbs (panko)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the broiler.
Add butter to a saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and garlic until they turn slightly brown. Add the flour and whisk together for 3 minutes to make a blonde roux. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent the roux from burning. Cook for approximately 10 minutes or until the roux has dissolved completely and you can no longer taste the flour. Add the pasta and stir until hot. Add the fresh herbs, the truffle oil, and half of the Parmesan and stir until dissolved. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Put all ingredients into an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the remaining cheese and bread crumbs on top evenly. Place under a broiler until top becomes golden brown.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'll have what she's having...Italian style...

I tell you what, Italians sure do know how to eat! Everything from the bread to the pasta is without a doubt heavenly. Who doesn't love a big plate of pasta or that bread and olive oil combo?!? I talk a lot about comfort food, and this too is added to my growing list. Another wonderful example of comfort food developed and mastered by our friends across the globe.

I love an occasional splurge at an Italian restaurant. The atmosphere is always so relaxing, and nobody ever seems in a huge hurry to get back to work or call it a night and head home. You're encouraged to enjoy your time savoring the meal and the company of those around you.

Buca di Beppo is no exception to fine Italian cuisine. This chain restaurant has everything but the chain restaurant feel and brought joy and comfort to my mind and stomach. The gingham table cloths, the wooden corner booth with bright red leather seats and Italian memorabilia hanging on every inch of the walls made for
a great getaway for lunch. 

PK picked me up from work (I never go out for lunch so this was a real long turkey sandwich today!) and we savored the tastes of Buca di Beppo.

Pretty hungry, we ordered the Bruschetta, Linguine Frutti di Mare and the Cheese Manicotti. Amazing selections! The linguine was filled with shrimp, baby clams, mussels and calamari and was tossed with a spicy red clam sauce. The manicotti came in these adorable pasta tubes stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesean cheeses. Marinara and Alfredo sauces completed this dish and made for the perfect blend of creamy deliciousness.

If you see a Buca di Beppo near you, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Taco soup and fresh bread...

I have always loved a good bowl of soup. It dates back to my childhood when I would go over to my cousin Leslie-Ann's house and my Aunt Cindy would make us two huge bowls of Spaghetti O's. Tomato sauce and those cute little pasta circles made for an entertaining and satisfying meal. A glass of milk and a sleeve of Ritz and we were set...content, warm and feeling right at home. In fact, while Leslie-Ann and I were roommates in college, we continued to stock our apartment cupboard with cans of the comfort soup.

Soups just have a special effect on me. On a cold day, it's nice to ladle piping hot soup into a big bowl and surround it with some kind of carb (go ahead and give know they are a delightful combination).

Moving to Indiana at the end of December meant many days and nights of cold weather. As I watched the snow fall from inside, my heart began to crave the comfort of soup. Not only to bring me back to the fond memories of home and childhood, but "to warm the cockles of my soul" (as my Mom always says). And I came across a perfect recipe I would like to share with you.

This taco soup recipe comes courtesy of PK's Mom. She is an amazing cook, and I love to eat anything and everything she prepares. A few weeks ago, she emailed me this taco soup recipe. It's low in fat but definitely not low on flavor. I made it for PK and my roommates one cold night, and we all really enjoyed it.

My carb of choice and sidekick to my soup was ciabatta bread with melted fontina cheese. Previously, I had watched the Food Network channel where Giada de Laurentiis (from Everyday Italian and Giada at Home) used ciabatta and paired it with fontina. Excellent decision! I layered slices of cheese on top of thick portions of bread, cranked the oven up to broil and tried to patiently wait five minutes until the cheese got melty, ooey-gooey and perfect.

The thing I love most about this soup recipe is that it requires no cooking skills whatsoever. You just brown your meat, open some cans, combine and let it simmer. Soooo easy and soooo satisfying. Since, I have shared the recipe with some ladies from work and they all approve as well.

You will not regret reading this post and trying this soup! May the warming of your soul begin!

Taco Soup 

1 lb. ground turkey
2 medium onion-chopped

*No need to drain the following, just combine in a large stove pot:
1 15 oz. can pinto beans
1 15 oz. can black beans
1 11 oz.  can vacuum packed niblet corn
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 4 1/2 oz. can green chilles
1 15 oz. can chili beans
1 1/2 c. water

1 package taco seasoning
1 package Hidden Valley ranch dressing mix

Step #1: Brown meat and onions together in skillet (set aside until a little later)
Step #2: While meat is browning, combine the beans, corn, tomatoes, chilles and water and bring to a boil.
Step #3: Add dry seasonings to the soup and reduce to a simmer.
Step #4: Add the meat and onions
Step #5: Let everything marry for 20 minutes still simmering until nicely incorporated.

*Feel free to top with sour cream and shredded cheese for a little Mexican flare!

(Serves approximately 6-8 people and freezes very well)

On the eve of giving up sweets...

Today's the day. I give up my sweets for 40 days in honor of Lent. It's bittersweet, but I'm super excited about this challenge and hope to gain a new perspective of my sugar consumption when it's all said and done.

Last night, PK and I thought we needed to go all out before emptying the candy jar and hiding our zebra cakes. After work, I went to a little bakery called Taylor's Bakery to pick up a triple chocolate ganache cake for the two of us to split.

I first heard of Taylor's Bakery through a co-worker. I was looking for a bakery to pick up a cake for PK's birthday back in January, and she recommended Taylor's. I was still very new to the city, but fell upon it one day trying to make my way to the mall. I walked in and was instantly greeted with smells of chocolate, honey buns, doughnuts, petit fours (a small cake usually covered in an icing), and many assorted bars, cupcakes, cheesecakes and eclairs.

For a sweets lover like myself, I immediately wanted one of everything...ok really though...I wanted two of everything! It was the mecca of all things tasty and delicious.

I love to ask the staff what's the most popular when I go to restaurants, bakeries, or places with lots of options. I always like to get a feel of what the regulars are eating and buying. The lovely staffer directed me to the triple chocolate ganache cake--and boy did she ever change my life.

Three layers high and three varieties of chocolate make this cake purely sinful. It's the epitome of indulgence and the perfect way to begin my fasting.

PK and I sat down, opened the box, admired the cake and it's beauty, grabbed our forks, put the milk in the middle and dove right in. I'll be happy to report that I didn't go too overboard, but spent the next 30 minutes in a silent heaven.

Words cannot fully express how incredible it was, but here is the damage.

Ok, day one is almost down...just 39 more!

Definitely a Fat Tuesday...

In honor of Mardi Gras, PK and I grabbed dinner from a wonderful little canjun creole place named Yats. The restuarant was decorated in traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold and giant King Cakes were never-ending last night.

It has become quite a favorite for us. The restaurant is small, quaint and the service is super fast and friendly. It's a cash only place, but the staff go by the "trust system," and will give you an IOU if you happen to forget your greens.

Another thing I love about Yats is that they let you sample everything! It could almost be a meal in itself. PK loves the Chili Cheese Étouffée, and I do too. It's creamy and filled with crawfish. It's a delicious spin on comfort food and a joy to eat on a cold day in Indiana. The spices, the consistency,  and the combination of rice and sauce makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

Another favorite is the jambalaya. Big chunks of sausage, perfectly cooked rice, kickin' spices and peppers brings the feel of Louisiana right to your plate. The French bread is a perfect compliment to the meal and a true belly stuffer. One order can easily feed me two or three more times and still keep me wanting to come back.

(All pictures courteousy of their website.)
There are four locations in Indianapolis and I plan on visiting them all before too long. Great place, great atmosphere, great food, and a great end to Mardi Gras.

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's going to be a long 40 days...

Lent is right around the corner. Ash Wednesday is quickly approaching, and I have decided to undergo the most challenging feat of my life...I'm giving up sweets. You've read correctly and anybody that knows me knows how hard this is going to be. Although I am not Catholic, I do love participating in the season of Lent. It's a special time for me to use discipline and self-control. Last year, I gave up buying magazines and saved a ton of money. It caused me to realize that I can go without.

I have tried in the past to give up chocolate...failure (after only three hours I must blushingly admit). I have tried to give up cola and soda...failure (graduate school is impossible without it). But never have I ever attempted to give up such a task as sweets. No M&M's, no cookies, no cupcakes, no icing, no Sweet Tarts, no ice cream...oh just typing all of this is making me hungry!

But I can do this...I will do this. To prove it to myself for all those years I have tried and failed.

So, I originally was going to make this blog primarily about sweets and desserts, but the temptation is just too strong right now. I will cover many more after my 40 days of insanity are over. For now, I want to focus on food I can actually EAT NOW!

But, I will continue to visit my favorite dessert places. I may not be able to sample, but I have no right to deny you what I see and smell. And technically I have less than 48 hours so I may just get in a few samples.