Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Philly Food and Fitness!

My dad and I recently signed up for the Independence Blue Cross Broad Street Run in Philly in May. Actually, the registration process more closely resembles an internet version of a Black Friday stampede, so we're pretty lucky that we were both able to get bib from day one.

The race is a ten mile run down one of the city's main streets. The two of us have done our share of long runs together, but we've been training for this race for about a month in the hopes that we could have a somewhat decent time for just being recreational runners (80 minutes, or maintaining an 8-minute mile for ten miles). Our training has no real structure, though we like pretending that it does. We just try to run 20-25 miles a week balanced with some strength training and lots of high-fives.

We opted for a seven mile run this weekend to gauge where we're at, and we have a little time to shave off, but not much. We spent our quality time together sharing motivational running stories, but only had enough to get us through mile five. The last two miles were spent running uphill in painful silence.

Keeping with our Philly theme, we ended up heading down that way afterwards and having lunch at Rembrant's, a pub near the art museum that seems to be known for its burgers. The restaurant was quaint and inviting, and definitely thriving.

Now, because we (or maybe just me) were famished from our morning run, I didn't quite remember to take pictures before eating the food. So I apologize in advance for the grotesque, mid-meal samples I'm sharing with you. It just proves we liked it, right?

Dad got the Pulpa Pizza which has "soprasetta, roasted peppers, capers, octopus, kalamata olives, tomato sauce, sharp provolone, and mozzarella," and it was amazing. It got a good hit of saltiness from a lot of the ingredients, but it wasn't ever overwhelming. The crust was thin, perfectly crisp, and not the least bit soggy. 

My brother got the Rogue burger: a beef burger topped with pork belly, bleu cheese, onions, greens and a fried egg. The waitress genuinely thanked him for ordering it. I only have a picture of the aftermath of this one. I'm actually impressed he was able to consume it so quickly. And a messy aftermath means it was delicious to begin with. 

Mom had their nod to a falafel sandwich, the Chickpea Hoagie. She really enjoyed it. There was a pleasant yet mysterious spice we couldn't quite figure out, but it kept things interesting.

And I had the turkey burger, which came with brie cheese, avocado and some sort of aioli. Not being a fan of avocado or mayonnaise-y products, I chose to promptly remove those items. The burger, however, was very good. Turkey burgers can easily be dry, but that wasn't the case here. They use brioche-type buns, too, and you know what they can't go wrong with brioche! Fact. Ironically, my meal was the only one that I didn't get a picture of. 

I highly recommend checking out Rembrant's. The service was excellent--they make you feel like a regular from the minute you walk in. The food was the perfect balance of familiar and innovative, all executed really well. And if you're into beer, they have an excellent selection to choose from. My brother is moving to Philly soon, so there should be many Philadelphia restaurant reviews to come! Have a happy Tuesday, everyone!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

NYC Food Tour Round 2

I was lucky enough to venture back to good ol' NYC so soon after my last visit to check out some more awesome restaurants with my dear friend Sarah. It was a beautiful 70 degree (winter?) day to spend walking around the bustling Washington Square Park along with other parts of the city.

Sarah, being a well-seasoned restaurant tour guide, had our destinations all planned. First up: Tom Colicchio's restaurant, Riverpark, to dine outside near the East River and soak up as much premature spring weather as possible. Then she decided we needed to check out The Frying Pan, an old lightship-turned-docked drinking boat. Need she say more?

Shortly after relaying to me our plans for the afternoon, followed by our bouts of excitement, we decided to be on the safe side and call for reservations to make sure there'd be a table for us at Riverpark as we trekked on over.

Then came the let-down: a special event meant the restaurant was closed that day for lunch (Who do you think you are, Tom Colicchio, with your fancy Top Chef friends? Tempting us with your river-side dining then closing your restaurant on a sickeningly beautiful day? Rude.).

(Just kidding, I love you.)

However, Sarah doesn't come without a backup plan. We ended up going to one of Mario Batali's restaurants, Lupa Osteria Romana. They didn't have seats outside, so we stayed inside the cozy building and enjoyed some pasta.

Inside of Lupa. They even have a prosciutto slicer on deck!

One of my all time favorite dishes at the restaurant I work at is the grilled calamari and octopodi. If eating octopus just isn't up your alley, the way they serve it there will definitely make you a believer. So when I saw the octopus on the menu at Lupa, Sarah and I decided we had to try it.

Octopus with Farro

It was good, not  rubbery or anything. The flavors were fine, and all-in-all it was a pretty good dish. I guess I just am biased towards our own octopus that it'd take a pretty convincing argument via plate to win me over.

Next we went for some pasta. I had the pasta special for the day, which was a linguini pasta with a tomato and chicken sauce. Sarah went for the waitress's suggestion of their "Bavette Cacio and Pepe," another linguini-like pasta with a butter and black pepper sauce. Both were simple and very good, not heavy at all like many pasta dishes. The portions were appropriate too (aka weren't made to serve an entire family). 

Linguini with tomato and chicken sauce 

Bavette Cacio & Pepe 

Overall, Lupa was a good plan "B." The meal was pleasant and simple, and the company was great. We decided we liked it, but there wasn't anything in particular that would have us yearning to go back. However, if you're in the area and are looking for some great, simple Italian food, Lupa would be a great pick. 

After lunch we made a quick stop at Sarah's place to regroup before heading out to the Frying Pan. Having learned from our last experience, we decided to call ahead. Lo and behold, it was closed, not to be open again til the following weekend. 

Strike two. 

Sarah, with her brilliance, knew that the renowned White Horse Tavern wouldn't let us down. So that's where we ended up, finally sitting outside, basking in the sun and enjoying a few beers. 

One last stop before heading to the train left us at our tried-and-true Chelsea Market for some gelato. Some perfectly-made sour cherry and spicy chocolate gelato to be exact (excellent choices, by the way). Sarah went for the tiramisu and panna cotta gelati, which were heavenly. 

Luckily we were able to get much accomplished before reaching strike three (wouldn't want to find out what happens after strike three...). Nothing may have gone as planned, but armed with the 2012 Zagat NYC restaurant guide and Sarah's vast knowledge of Manhattan, that's all the more reason to go back and try again. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Irish Car Bomb Brownies

Just a quick recipe post! I hope everyone's St. Paddy's Day was thoroughly enjoyed with plenty of family, friends, beer and whiskey. I was bartending, and it wasn't too busy during the day (most likely due to the restaurant's lack of Irish affiliation), but we still had fun! We kind of made it our mission to fit as much green into our black-on-black uniforms as possible.

I was hoping someone at the bar would order an actual Irish Car Bomb, it being St. Paddy's and all. But I guess mid-afternoon is a little too early for those. Luckily for me, I had about an hour between working out and heading off to work, and that left me just enough time to whip up some Irish Car Bomb Brownies.

These brownies have a texture closer to fudge than cake-like brownies because there's no leavening agent used (like baking powder or baking soda). The recipe is adapted from a gluten-free version I found on The Dusty Baker. Since I have no reason not to use gluten, I decided to put it back in (duh). But if for some reason you're on a gluten-free diet, by all means follow their original recipe!

Irish Car Bomb Brownies

Guinness Brownies
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter
3/4 cup cocoa powder (I use Valrhona since it's super dark, but any good cocoa will work!)
1/2 cup Guinness
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup AP flour
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8x8 square baking dish (or something similar) and line with parchment. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and whisk in cocoa until smooth. Mix in beer. Add sugar and whisk until it's dissolved (about a minute). Transfer mixture to large bowl and cool slightly. Add eggs and whisk until completely combined. Fold in flour and salt, and pour into baking dish. Bake 15-20 minutes until middle is set. Cool before frosting.

Jameson and Baileys Ganache 
1 cup chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp butter
1 oz Jameson Irish Whiskey
1 oz Baileys Irish Cream

Place chocolate in a medium-sized bowl. Heat cream just until it begins to bubble. Pour over chocolate and let sit for a couple minutes. Begin slowly mixing the chocolate and cream mixture until all chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Whisk in butter, Jameson and Baileys. Pour on top of cooled brownies, and allow to set for a few hours at room temperature before cutting and serving.

Check back soon for a second review of some eateries in NYC! Have a wonderful night!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Loco Cocoa Cake!

This post is devoted to my incredibly supportive, loving, intelligent and crazy dad. Today is his birthday! Happy birthday, Dad! 

I can thank him for my competitiveness, my need to challenge myself, and my spontaneity. He's the one that runs beside me, gives me a glance and the next thing you know we're sprinting until one of us burns out. He's there 10:00 in the morning on my birthday doing a shot of tequila with me (though we opted for 10pm this time around). He's the one you can say "I kind of feel like going on a road trip," and his response is, "Which car should we take?" And I can always count on him walking through the door with his enthusiastic, "Hey Mandy May!" every day when he gets home from work.

All in all, my dad is a pretty awesome guy.

And that means he needs an awesome cake. One that's not usual, a little surprising, and definitely keeps you on your toes.

Two years ago for his birthday I made what I like to call "The Man Cake," which was a cake made with his own Pumpkin Ale topped with a bacon buttercream, made with bacon fat and butter. Oh, yeah. I did that. And I topped it with crumbled bacon.

Since The Man Cake was pretty out of the box, I needed to come up with something that was at least comparable this year.

I decided on a chocolate cake, soaked in Patron Xo Cafe Dark Cocoa tequila, filled with cayenne-chocolate custard and topped with a spicy dark chocolate ganache. Loco Cocoa, no?

The cake was made from my favorite chocolate cake recipe, cut into four layers, and doused in the tequila. I filled the cake with my standard chocolate custard recipe with about a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne added in (we like things spicy! Adjust according to your tastes). I frosted the cake with a dark chocolate ganache that also had cayenne and a little cinnamon added. The cake was decorated with shards of chocolate sprayed with edible gold and amber sugar.

I'm very blessed to have such a wonderful dad who keeps up with my crazy life and supports me every step of the way. Hope you had a great day, Dad!

"And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers..." Malachi 4:6

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Workout Review and Bridal Shower Cake Recap

You know what puts a damper on working out in the morning?

It not being morning.

I'm looking at you, Daylight Savings Time.

There's just something about starting your day when it's still dark out that goes against all natural instincts. Luckily for me, my little brother is home from school for the week. And since he wanted to tag along to the gym while he's home, I get to "take one for the team" and wake up a little later to be his gym buddy.

This being my first fitness post, I'm going to give you the inside scoop of what I actually do at the gym (because you've all been dying to know). Well, I've been slowly shifting my workout from focusing on just cardio to splitting it equally with strength training. So I've gone from 45-60 minutes of cardio and 15 of strength training to at least 30 minutes of each. My cardio of choice is running, but an injury last week banned me from the treadmill, forcing me to fill my gym time elsewhere.

After dealing with a frustrating, money-stealing seller on eBay while trying to buy the Insanity workout program, I found this workout routine on another blog. Let me tell you, this workout looks all innocent and reasonable, but it definitely pushes you. I like to think I'm in fairly decent shape, but there are points in this workout when I have questioned that.

Then yesterday, while doing "Day 7:The Punisher," I come across this:

"One Arm Push Up." All casual-like. It's like they snuck it in there at the end as a joke. 

I don't know about you, but I do push ups on the regular and have yet to be able to do ONE one armed push up. Maybe you men have it easier or something, but as a girl it just ain't happenin'. 

The only thing this proved to me was that this workout really does push your limits. I highly suggest it if you're looking for structure and a change in your daily routine. Plus you don't need all kinds of crazy equipment. And because of their Extreme Leg and Butt Workout Level 1 (Level 1!?!), my legs are currently as close to feeling like Jell-O as ever. 

Speaking of dessert, I had a Paris-themed bridal shower order this weekend. I have a soft spot in my heart for anything French, so this was a pretty exciting project for me! I thought I'd share some photos, and reward you with some cake for sticking with me through this fitness post. 

The bride's personal cake: red velvet cake decorated with hand-made sugar blossoms, sugar pearls and topped with a chocolate Eiffel Tower

French vanilla cupcakes topped with fondant and hand-piped damask and bow patterns

Creme brulee cupcakes (brown sugar cupcakes filled with vanilla custard, topped with vanilla meringue buttercream and a burnt-sugar disk) and chocolate raspberry cupcakes with chocolate ganache

Au revoir! 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

NYC Mini Food Tour

A few weeks ago I was able to go visit my lovely friend over at the Native New Yorker (who is so incredibly lucky to live in Manhattan among some of the best restaurants and food shops in the world) with some other wonderful college friends of mine. She was just about the best foodie tour guide we could've asked for, and thanks to her I was able to check many places off my "I need to eat here before I die" list. I was too in awe to snap many pictures, but I'll share what I have and leave the rest for you to check out for yourself someday!

First stop: Joe's Pizza

I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture of the pizza. Or the inside of the place for that matter, with the graffiti-adorned tables and their Wall of Fame. It's not huge, but they definitely make good use of every inch of space they have. The wait wasn't bad--maybe a 20 minute line outside, but the weather was nice and us ladies had some catching up to do as it was. When it came to the pizza, we just stuck with the good ol' classic plain pie, and it was definitely a good pick. The crust was thin and crispy, and they weren't shy with the cheese (which I take off anyway. I know, "then what's the point of eating pizza?" I hear it all the time. Old habits, people! But I understand if that completely voids any and all of my pizza reviews.). It reminded me a lot of the NJ favorite, famous DeLorenzo's Pies (which I am partial to...). Joe's was absolutely worth the visit, and I encourage anyone to stop by if they have the chance.

Next up: Chelsea Market!

My, oh my, Chelsea Market. It is what dreams are made of. Glittering archways, bon bons, liquor. Are you as enthralled as I am right now? We made our stops at Bar Suzette Creperie, Jacques Torres' for chocolates, Eleni's for cupcakes, the Chelsea Wine Vault, and window-shopped at every other place they had to offer (mostly because we couldn't consume anymore food at the moment).

Check my shirt! Chive shout out!

The crepes were perfect--just like you'd get in Paris. I stuck with the standard chocolate filling, but all of them were tempting (Butter with cinnamon-sugar! Butter with sugar and berries! Or bananas! Nutella!).  And they were completely portable, which is good when you have "work" to do.

Next door was Jacques Torres' shop (how convenient!) where I got six of his amazing chocolates and one of his famous cookies. The chocolates I went for were the chai-filled white chocolate, the cappuccino, the pistachio, the espresso, the dark chocolate truffle (recommended by the staff), and the menage-a-trois, which was a special combination of three of their flavors. I brought them home for my family to sample and we all collectively decided the menage-a-trois was the definite winner! It was so interesting...fruity and roasty and bitter. They were all excellent though. I also really liked the chai, but I'd probably like anything chai. The cookie was the chocolate peanut butter cup version, and I wasn't overly impressed. I've heard so much about these cookies, even have replicated them myself in the past, but it just didn't do its name justice. Though that could be because they had been sitting on the counter all day...! I just loved that I was in the presence of something Jacques Torres. He's been an idol of mine of all things chocolate and French since I was a kid.

We popped by Eleni's so the ladies could grab some cupcakes. Those of us who went for the crepes weren't quite ready for another round (rookies, I know.), but they seemed to thoroughly enjoy them! And who wouldn't love this cute shop?

Our last purchase at Chelsea Market was some lovely Pinot Grigio, then it was off to the High Line walking bridge for a stroll before our last stop of the day.

Final stop: The Doughnut Plant

I have longed to go to The Doughnut Plant for years. It's so quirky and they have such unique flavors. And who doesn't love doughnuts? I'm sure The Doughnut Plant was even on my mind as I made these doughnuts a while back. Again, I picked out a few and waited the couple hours(!) until I got home and was able to share them with my dear family. I decided to try the coconut, the vanilla bean, the pistachio (which my mother claims was hazelnut...we haven't settled that one yet), the black-out (chocolate cake), and the tres leches, which the girl behind the counter suggested. I have to say, they were all very, very good. I'm not a fan of cream-filled things, but the coconut was awesome regardless. I can even see non-coconut lovers loving this guy. If I had to pick a least favorite, it would probably be the tres leches. I say if you're having doughnuts, they've got to be from a yeast dough. The tres leches and the black-out were both cake-based, and the texture of the tres leches was a little off for me (a tad soggy maybe?). But it must be a big-seller if it was recommended, so my opinion is probably way out-numbered! It most definitely fulfilled my years of waiting, so I suggest you pop in if you get the chance.

There you have it, a long-winded, mini food tour of NYC, mostly consisting of all things sweet. I couldn't have pictured a better way of checking some destinations off my list than doing so with some of my dearest girlfriends. Thanks, ladies, for putting up with my insane enthusiasm and random shrieks of excitement. You are the best!

Monday, March 5, 2012

New Directions and Cooking Class Recap!

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11.

I've been trying to wait for life to settle a bit before attempting regular blog posts again, but that clearly isn't happening. So here I am, in the midst of four very irregular jobs, and no idea what's in store for me over the next few months. But one thing that stays the same is my presence in the kitchen. And the gym. And church.

That being said, I'm going to change my approach to this blog a bit. I'll still post recipes (since that's what I do, duh.), but I'll incorporate stuff about my fitness (since I cheat on the kitchen by working out) and my journey with God since giving my life up to Him.

First things first, a recipe! But a healthy one, for reals this time. I know most people are not a fan of plain Greek yogurt (I've heard some liken it to eating chalk..I swear it's better than chalk!), but I have a recipe for a breakfast made with the stuff that'll change their minds.  I'm actually eating it right now. Actually, I eat it every day. It's THAT good! Have I convinced you yet? Probably not.

It's just one cup of plain nonfat Greek yogurt, 1 small chopped apple, 1 tablespoon uncooked oats and some cinnamon. That's it! Mix it all together and voila! The apple adds just enough sweetness without any added sugar.

Moving on from all this healthy talk, about a month ago I took a series of cooking classes with my mom at Rat's Restaurant (dream come true much?), and we used as much butter and salt and amazingly fattening delicious things as we wanted. Take a peak at what we made!

Roasted beet and fennel salad with apples, walnuts and shave ricotta salata and a Champagne vinaigrette

Crabcakes wrapped in zucchini 

In the most beautiful kitchen in the world! 

Filleting a red snapper

Baby octopus..mmmmm

Cleaning squid...oh hey, nice ink sack ;)

All that hard work to make some killer seafood risotto!

Braised short ribs with parsnip puree and brussel sprouts. Best. Meal. Ever.


Creme brulee. Oh la la. 

And finally, profiteroles. Delish!

We worked with Chef Shane Cash, who's probably the nicest guy in the world. And how could I forget, after every meal the sommelier (Alan, who's equally as awesome!) had the perfect wines to pair it with. Dinner and drinks every Tuesday for a month? Thanks, Mama for such a wonderful experience! 

I told you it was the most beautiful kitchen in the world! (Picture provided by Rat's Restaurant)

Up next, a review of a mini food tour through NYC with one of my best friends, The Native New Yorker! Now go check out her incredibly mouthwatering/entertaining/informative blog!