I was born and raised in Kansas and learned to cook alongside my mother. Now, along with my wonderful husband, I have taken the plunge into the city life in New York. These are my food adventures: in my own tiny kitchen, and in the many restaurants of the city.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Anti-Kabobs, Dump Cake, and the Horrors of Grocery Shopping

When you move to New York City, people all around you warn you about the crime, the pollution, the bad attitudes. But no one ever takes the time to warn you about grocery shopping. Perhaps it is the fact that there are so many fabulous restaurants in the city and no one really needs to buy groceries. Maybe people just hire their personal shoppers to buy their milk and butter and bread for them. But shopping in New York is unlike any experience you will ever have.

The difficulty begins in getting around the store. The aisles are narrow and impossible to maneuver with a cart, and a hand basket is equally as difficult if you are trying to follow a list and carry your purse at the same time. Often times there are many other people trying to get down the same aisle as you and since you are the only ones taking pains not to get in others' ways, you will get pushed from side to side and it will take you forever just to get to the other end. The stores are all small so items are stuffed together and certain items that you need may be found in the strangest locations. You may also have to dig through the frozen cooler of random things (deli trays, pizzas, sangria, cheesecake) to find something particularly tricky. And often times the store you are at does not have everything you need, so you must purchase your items and head out with your bags to the next store over. At this store you must hold onto the bags from the first store, your purse, your shopping list and the basket for the new items. And fighting your way to the counter to pay with all of this baggage is a mission set for James Bond.

Once you have finally paid for all of your items, you must somehow get them home. If you are lucky, you do not have to get onto a full subway and risk smacking several people with your packages in the process. Your arms start to get weak and you regret any impulse purchases since you have no car trunk to throw the stuff in (I especially like to curse the 6 pack of beer...who knew it would be so heavy with your 8 other bags). And perhaps you could buy a cart to push around with all of your things, but then how would you get it up to your 6th floor apartment by yourself when the elevator only works about 1% of the time. Once you finally get home and put things away, you may realize that you have forgotten an item...this is when you truly become a creative cook. Perhaps you make Kabobs without the kabob...they taste the same anyway, right???

Kabobs (kind-of)
2 1/2 boneless chicken breasts chopped into pieces
2 red bell peppers, cut into large pieces
1 green bell pepper, cut into large pieces
1 package whole button mushrooms, cut in 1/2
1 medium onion, cut into large pieces
Large chunks of pineapple (which one may forget about if you haven't set them out with the veggies :-( )
Marinade:
4 Tablespoons Honey
4 Tablespoons cider vinegar
pepper
Chili powder
curry
crushed red pepper
paprika
garlic powder
Mix together the marinade and let the kabobs marinate for at least one hour before grilling.



Dump Cake

1 18-21 oz white cake mix (I suggest French Vanilla instead of plain white...really yummy!)

1/2 c. Chopped walnuts

1/2 cup coconut

1 21 oz can apple pie filling

1 16 oz can crushed pineapple

1 stick butter or margarine, melted

Combine cake mix, walnuts and coconut in a bowl, mixing well. Layer pie filling in a 13x9 baking pan. Then layer pineapple on top. Then layer the cake and coconut mixture on top of all and pat down to make even. Drizzle butter on top and bake at 350 for 50 minutes until golden brown.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Le Pain

I do realize that this title perhaps suggests a burnt hand or a chopped finger, however the actual reason for this post couldn't be farther from a painful experience. We met up with a friend yesterday and she suggested we go grab a bite at Le Pain Quotidien, a little restaurant that is a chain, but is quaint and wonderful. They have huge, long tables for communal dining, delicious breads, and what appeared to be tasty pastries (which I am sure I will return to try sometime in the near future).

I started off with a small bowl of gazpacho. It was nice and cool and flavorful (although it isn't quite as good as the recipe I have from my grammar teacher in Spain). And again I must apologize for the poor quality photos...someday I will remember to start bringing my camera everywhere so I will not have to rely on my shoddy camera phone for my pictures.
Next Joanna and I shared a cheese plate with goat cheese, Gruyere, aged cheddar, and brie and the Tuscan Platter that had prosciutto, melon, a deliciously creamy ricotta cheese, and a fabulous olive/pesto tapenade. And I washed it down with a surprisingly tasty red table wine: medium bodied, smooth, AND organic. It was really nice.

It was a wonderful place to nibble on the food, have a lot of laughs and really enjoy one another's company. Not a pain at all.

Get Out of Town

:::In my most snobby, rich, New York voice::: "Joe and I went to the Hamptons this weekend." We had two days off in a row together and wanted to get out of town for a while, so we took a day-trip to Southampton. It was fabulous. The weather was absolutely perfect, and it was so nice to get away from the craziness of the city for a day. It smelled like nature and the ocean and felt really laid back. It felt great to just be able to wander around and not feel rushed to get anywhere, plus I've been really craving a trip to the beach.

Before we left town, we had dinner at Barrister's, on Main St. We started off with a baked clam and bacon casserole. It had clams, breadcrumbs, red bell peppers, and bacon.
For the main course I had a salad topped off with grilled yellowfin tuna. The salad had kalamata olives, green beans, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes--it was sooo good.
Joe had a cheeseburger and he was really impressed with it--in fact he's still talking about it now. :-) And most importantly, we didn't spend an arm and a leg for our dinner in the Hamptons.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thai Chicken Pizza

In rummaging through my recipes to decide what to have for dinner, I came across this one. It sounded delicious and rather healthy (at least it had a lot of veggies) so I tried it out. I got the recipe from RR, but made a couple of changes to it. First of all I had the hardest time finding pizza crust in the stores--there was NONE. And I really didn't have the time to make it homemade. So, I took a package and a half of refrigerator biscuits and squished them all together and flattened it out to make the dough. I used my grill/griddle pan again (yay!) to grill the chicken, and I couldn't find seedless cucumbers, so I just used regular ones. I also added some pineapple chunks. Instead of just plan Monterey Jack cheese I used some with peppers in it. I also cut the bean sprouts. It was delicious. I was surprised at how much I actually liked the crust! (PS, sorry for the dirty stove and ugly pan :-).

Thai Chicken Pizza
1 pizza dough, any brand
1/2 cup duck sauce or plum sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 package (2 cups) shredded provolone or Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 rounded tablespoonful peanut butter
2 teaspoons hot sauce
2 teaspoons grill seasoning (recommended: Montreal Steak Seasoning) eyeball it
4 chicken breast cutlets, 1/2 pound
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/4 seedless cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks
4 scallions, chopped
1 cup bean spouts, a couple of handfuls
Palm full cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped peanuts, 2 ounces

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Form pizza crust on pizza pan or cookie sheet. Top with duck or plum sauce - spread it around like you would pizza sauce. Sprinkle the pizza with some crushed red pepper flakes then top with cheese and peppers. Bake until golden and bubbly, 15 to 17 minutes.
Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Combine vegetable oil, soy sauce and peanut butter with hot sauce and grill seasoning. Use the microwave to loosen up peanut butter if it is too cold to blend into sauce, 10 seconds ought to do it. Add chicken and coat evenly with mixture. Let stand 10 minutes then grill chicken cutlets 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until firm. Slice chicken into very thin strips.
While chicken cooks, mix honey and vinegar and add the cucumber. Turn to coat evenly.
Top the hot, cooked pizza with chicken, scallions, sprouts and cilantro. Drain cucumbers and scatter over the pizza. Garnish pizza with peanuts, cut into 8 wedges and serve.

I also made a cake. I admit that I used a box cake mix, but I made the frosting homemade!! I just didn't know the ingredients for a homemade cake off the top of my head and didn't want to go to the store again later. The frosting is one of my faves!


Mocha frosting:
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons milk
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
1 cup hot water

To make the Mocha Frosting: In a large bowl, combine shortening with vanilla. Blend in half of the confectioners' sugar. Blend in 2 tablespoons milk. Repeat with remaining confectioners' sugar and 2 tablespoons milk. Mix in approximately half of the cocoa.
Dissolve the 1 tablespoon instant coffee into 1 cup of hot water. While still warm, pour two tablespoons of the coffee into the frosting mixture. Mix in remaining cocoa. Add coffee mixture, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. Fill and frost cake.

9th Ave. International Food Festival



One of the things I was most excited about when moving here to NYC was the number of street fairs that they have here. How can you go wrong with streets full of food, great smells, crafts, and people. I love it.

The 9th Ave. International Food Festival is held every year the weekend after Mother's day. It is held by restaurants of Hell's kitchen as a fundraiser. There are many booths that are typical street fair foods (hot dogs, funnel cakes, etc.), but the restaurants of the area also set up some booths of their own. So you can get food from local bakeries, Thai appetizers, Spanish paella, BBQ and more. There was even one booth set up roasting a pig.

We were starving by the time we got there, so we grabbed a grilled chicken skewer and grilled corn on the cob to share while we wandered around. It was a beautiful day and perfect to be walking around. The one bad part was that some of the cross streets weren't blocked off so at each intersection we had to wait for the walk signal so we wouldn't get run over.

After wandering for a while, I decided that I needed some seafood. When I went over to one of the booths, they had just put out some freshly fried soft shell crabs. I got 2 for $5 and was on my way. They were delicious, but not exactly the easiest thing to eat while walking around and surrounded by a lot of people! We also tried some deep fried oreos. They dip them in the batter that I think they also use for funnel cakes and fry them. Fabulous. I could eat these every single day.

Before we left for good we made a final stop by Poseidon Bakery's booth. It is a Greek bakery and had spanikopita, baklava and so much more. I tried to get a good picture, but I had forgotten my camera at home (I was so mad at myself) and only had my camera phone, so they didn't turn out. We got an apple strudel and baklava and they were amazing. I have to go back to this bakery again--I was highly impressed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Surf and Turf

In my ongoing quest for great steaks/burgers without an outdoor grill, I have purchased a reversible grill/griddle pan. In it's debut dinner, I used it to grill up some steaks while sauteing some shrimp. I was really impressed with how the steaks turned out by using this grill pan--they were definitely the best steaks I have made without an outdoor grill. I just marinated them in some Tastefully Simple Merlot sauce, red and black pepper, and garlic salt, then threw them onto the grill pan.

For the shrimp, I just sauteed them in a combination of butter, sherry, lemon juice and garlic. Simple, but enough to help curb my seafood craving (I was really wanting some seafood, but Joe isn't a big fan of much other than shrimp, so I figured it would be a happy medium).


For sides, I served some green beans, cheddar garlic biscuits, and beer cheese dip. The biscuits didn't turn out as well as they normally do--they were a little flat and not as fluffy as usual. I think it was partially because of the humidity of the day and I got a little careless while making them as well. They still turned out ok, though. The beer dip was especially good because I used Stella beer. Mmm.


Cheddar garlic Biscuits

INGREDIENTS 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup margarine

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 t. garlic powder

DIRECTIONS Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a medium baking sheet. In a medium saucepan, bring milk and margarine to boil over medium high heat. Stir in flour and reduce heat to low. Vigorously stir until thick enough to form into a ball. Remove from heat. Beat eggs into the mixture until smooth. Stir in cheddar cheese and garlic powder. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven 15 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown.



Beer cheese dip:

2 8oz packages of cream cheese. Use regular cream cheese, lite or fat free cream cheese doesn't mix as well. If you really want to cut calories and fat use one regular and one lite.

1 packet of dry ranch dressing mix. Make sure it isn't the dry ranch dip mix. (I did use the dip mix this time because I couldn't find the other and it worked fine).

1/2 cup of beer.

Shredded Cheese. I used cheddar cheese this time.

Mix the cream cheese, dressing mix, and beer together. The consistency is really weird. Just keep mixing and it will smooth out. Once it is pretty well blended I add the shredded cheese. I don't use a specific amount... just add to taste. Finish by topping the dip with more shredded cheese. Serve with pretzels, tortilla chips, or veggies. It washes down great with more BEER!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spice it up

Thursday I couldn't get the Buffalo Chicken dip out of my head. I had to have it. So, I planned my meal around it. We had the "crack dip" as it is so fondly called, cheeseburgers, watermelon and cantaloupe. It was delicious. I don't have a grill (we live on the 6th floor of the apartment building...I suppose I could grill out on the fire escape, but I have a feeling that would be frowned upon), so I am still in the process of trying to make a good burger. They just aren't the same when cooked on the stove! However, Joe said these were the best I have done so far. I used some seasoned salt, onion flakes, garlic powder, a red and black pepper mixture, and liquid smoke. I'm hoping to eventually perfect the stove top burger, but it may take many more moons (I'm open to any suggestions!).

If you have not tried previously mentioned crack dip, you must. It is like gooey, cheesy, melty wings on chips. Mmmmm.

Buffalo Chicken "crack" dip

2 cans (10 oz.) chunk chicken
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I prefer sharp)
1 cup dressing (some use ranch, I use blue cheese)
2 (8oz) pkgs cream cheese
3/4 c. (or more depending on how spicy you like it) Franks Red hot sauce
Mix all ingredients together and bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Dip with tortilla chips, celery, pretzels. Also good spread on pizza dough if you have some left over. Or just with a spoon.

Yesterday on my lunch break at work, Alicja and I decided to go grab some Thai food. We ended up at Isle Thai. I had the Spicy Basil Noodle (drunken man noodle). It is one of my favorite Thai dishes and I have a hard time not trying it if it is on the menu. I have heard many reasons for the name "drunken noodle". One is that the dish is so spicy that you will have to drink a lot to combat the heat. Another is that it is an excellent hangover cure. I have also heard that it is so called because it is one of the only dishes you can find on the streets late at night in Thailand when everyone is out partying. I don't know the actual reasoning behind the name, I just know that it is tasty! And this particular version was no disappointment. It was very flavorful and spicy, but not so hot that I couldn't finish the dish. It was perfect.

Alicja had the eggplant sauteed with garlic and basil. It was great as well. And both of our dishes came with a choice of appetizer. We each had the green salad with the peanut dressing (which I have been craving like mad lately), but we could have also gotten a "caesar" salad, spring rolls, dumplings, shrimp and chicken fritters, or summer rolls. And the price was fabulous. We had our entrees, salads, one glass of wine (for me) and one beer (for her) for $26. Not too shabby.
The decor at the restaurant was great, too. If you look really closely at the picture you may be able to see the lightbulbs: they all had little metal wings and looked like they were birds. They were "flying" around the cages and the tree that they had at the bar. Some people are so creative.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tribute to the Knotties


When I got engaged I was a little overwhelmed by the idea of planning a wedding. Eventually I found my way to the Knot and to the Knot message boards, particularly the local Kansas City board. Throughout the planning process the women on this board gave me ideas, support, and encouragement and eventually became my good friends. There were often times when we would have get togethers where we would eat and drink and share stories and good times. I had not lived in Kansas City very long and when we moved here to New York, leaving the knotties and our gatherings behind was one of the hardest things about going. The night before I flew out we all got together for one more happy hour and the girls surprised me with going away gifts. The best was a cookbook that they had all worked together to compile. The girls submitted their recipes along with their pictures and stories about where the recipes came from. Sarah designed page layouts and Julie printed them out, along with very special forward from Kala. It was one of the best gifts I have ever received.





So last night while trying to figure out what sounded good for dinner, I decided to flip through the pages of my cookbook again (the first time I used it I made Jaclyn's "Pork Loin with Fig and Port Sauce" and Kim's "Artichoke Cheese Dip", both of which were fabulous). I decided to make Sarah's "Apple-Cheddar Tossed Salad" and Audrey's "Chicken Marsala". I also wanted some toasted garlic bread. I did discover in the process, though that the pilot light on my gas oven had gone off--a problem I had not encountered before. I'm still having some issues getting used to the gas stove. I have to send out some props here for the nesties on the What's Cooking board for their quick response and help in getting my oven back in commission!!


Chicken Marsala
¼ cup all-purpose flour for coating
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves-pounded ¼ inch thick
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced mushrooms
½ cup Marsala wine
¼ cup cooking sherry
In a shallow dish or bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper and oregano. Coat chicken pieces in flour mixture.
In a large skillet, melt butter in oil over medium hear. Place chicken in the pan, and lightly brown. Turn over chicken pieces, and add mushrooms. Pour in wine and sherry. Cover skillet; simmer chicken 10 minutes, turning once, until no longer pink and juices run clear.



Apple-Cheddar Tossed Salad


4 cups torn mixed salad greens
1/3 cup chopped red apple
1/3 cup cubed Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
Honey Dressing:
¼ cup honey
2 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon ground mustard
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon grated onion
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
In a large salad bowl, combine the greens, apple, cheese and walnuts. In a blender or food processor, combine the first eight dressing ingredients. While processing, gradually add oil in a steady stream. Serve with salad.


Both of these dishes were so good. I loved the dressing for the salad--I may have to make a lot to keep around the house.

I used to work at an Italian restaurant that would put some provolone cheese and prosciutto on the chicken Marsala--I kind of missed the creaminess that the cheese added, so i think next time I make this I will top off each piece of chicken with some provolone. And I may add some garlic, too (because I am a garlic fiend). But the sauce was very flavorful and so easy to make.

Thank you, girls for the great recipes!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Pizza and Cupcakes






I have been working a lot and haven't had much time for cooking. I'll usually get a couple of days where I can, but otherwise it's grabbing a bite out or eating family meal (something that I hadn't ever experienced until I came to the city: restaurants will make a meal for the employees before each shift. It's a chance to sit down and chat and relax for a few minutes before the night gets going. I love it, but sometimes you want to eat with your actual family, too, and not just your work family!). Joe and I's favorite place for a quick bite is Two Boots Pizza.
I think Two Boots has the best pizza. Ever. And we eat a lot of pizza. Two Boots is named so for the shape of Italy and Louisiana, the two inspirations for the pizzas here. They use an incredibly tasty cornmeal crust topped off with New Orleans inspired ingredients. The pizzas have unique names, some named after famous people that the pizza's flavors are inspired by. One of our favorites is "the Dude", a "Cajun bacon cheeseburger pie: tasso, andouille, ground beef, cheddar and mozzarella." I just tried "The Newman" (yes, the guy from Seinfeld) the other day. It was on a white pie with sopresata and sausage and some kind of creamy cheese. It was fabulous. Their crust is the perfect thickness and flavor and crispiness and the toppings are paired so well. And with single slices all the way up to full pies, it is the perfect meal for any appetite!




After pizza and walking around the city for a while, Joe and I decided to call it an early night and head home to hang out on the couch, but first we made a stop by Magnolia Bakery.

I had never been and felt that I was required to taste the cupcakes that were helped to their fame by Sex and the City in order to truly call myself a New Yorker. After hearing so many people gush about them, I felt my life would not be complete without one.

The bakery, surprisingly, was not quite as busy as I have heard it can be. Often there are lines around the corner to get in. When you get inside the cupcakes are self-serve to the left of the entrance (I'm assuming this was implemented to help keep the line moving more quickly since so many people come in just for the cupcakes--but don't plan on taking a bunch home because you are only allowed to by 12 per person) and then employees standing next to the line ask if there is anything else they can get for you (like their icebox cakes, which look phenomenal) and then you pay the cashier and get out of their to get away from the bustle. Then you must restrain yourself for the long subway ride home while the smell of sugary frosting wafts up to you from your lap in order to enjoy the cupcakes from the comfort of your own couch.

Finally, after changing into some pj's and settling in at home, I was ready to devour the cupcakes. I had one cupcake that was chocolate with chocolate frosting and one vanilla cupcake with chocolate frosting (because I don't think you should be allowed to eat a cupcake without at least a little chocolate on it). They were pretty darn good. The frosting was delicious and sugary and so light and fluffy. I have to admit that the cake part wasn't quite as good as I was expecting, though. The bottom part was pretty good, but the top part (right underneath of the frosting) was almost hard and chewy. And the flavor of the cake wasn't as good as some others I have had. But all in all, it really was a great cupcake. However, the search for the perfect cupcake goes on...

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Little Branch

After work last night my crazy, fun coworker Alicja invited me out to drinks with her and our bartender, Ben. Ben is very picky about his drinks and he told us that he was going to take us to the place that makes the best mixed drinks in the city. Quite a statement for a city like this.



So when we arrive I felt partially scared and excited because this is the entryway:



There was no sign or any indication that this was a bar except the slightly scary looking bouncer outside (ok, so maybe he wasn't scary looking, but when someone is standing outside a club and is going to either let me in or not, I think they are scary...). Ben knew the bouncer well and after chatting for a second we headed down to the bar.


It is a little place, but definitely has a lot of character. Here's what Daniel Maurer of NY Mag has to say about it: "The third arm of hallowed drinkslinger Sasha Petraske’s empire is a kindler, gentler, larger permutation of its predecessor: The bartenders still wear suspenders and many of the old rules still apply (no talking loudly or misbehaving), but Milk & Honey’s pressed-tin aesthetic has been replaced with simple mustard-painted walls and low ceilings made from orange-painted sheets of corrugated steel. The color scheme lends warmth to the subterranean location, as does the old standup piano occasionally used by jazz trios. Yet although the vibe is looser, the mixology is still rigorous: The staff arrives two hours ahead of opening to squeeze fresh juice, chill glasses, cut blocks of ice (to keep the drinks from diluting quickly) and load garnishes into a custom-built ice block. Name your favorite liquor and they’ll give you an encyclopedic list of old-fashioned cocktails and egg flips that incorporate it. Yes, they may serve the best mojito this side of Havana, but why settle for that when they also make the Trinidadian version: the Queens Park Swizzle. This ruby-colored variation uses bitters to give it a tart, eye-opening flavor. An abundance of booths makes walk-ins a cinch. But for a lesson in libations the true alcohol aficionados will stand at the bar. "


Ben knew the bartenders as well and they whipped us up a few drinks that we all shared. It was amazing watching the bartenders at work--it was like watching mad scientists in the laboratory. And the drinks were definitely unlike any I have ever tasted. During one of the rounds I was given the Queens Park Swizzle that is mentioned above and it is great. Anything that has some fresh mint in it and I'm in love. We also had the Presbytarian--a drink with rye, lime, ginger, sugar, and candied ginger for a garnish. Delicious.

This is definitely a place that I will be returning to, and probably taking friends that come to visit from out of town. If you go remeber this: the drinks are delicious and go down easy, but have too many and you may regret it the next day! The drinks are all sweet and give you a killer headache/hangover! Make sure to add some water to the mix to, um, cleanse your palatte.


Special thanks to Alicja and Ben for the good times and definitely the best drinks I've had in town so far!

Easy Fondu


I was in desperate need of fruit and veggies in my diet because we have been eating out so much and I haven't really been eating well (still settling in and getting used to shopping/cooking here). So I decided to make some fondue (plus, these are fun to eat with the hubby).
I used two really easy recipes. The cheese fondue is from the Hidden Valley Ranch site and the second is from Rachael Ray (with a couple of adjustments). For dippers: french bread, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, pineapple, bananas, apples, strawberries, and these fabulous cinnamon cookies that were perfect with the chocolate fondue.

Cheese Please Fondue
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup Hidden Valley® The Original Ranch® dressing
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
Paprika, optional
Sliced green onion, optional
Dipper Ideas: Thick Pennsylvania-style pretzels, Toasted garlic bread, Apples or pears, Saltine crackers, Favorite veggies (celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers)
Preparation Prep Time: 10 min.Cook Time: 10 min. Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Sprinkle flour in melted butter and stir constantly for 2 minutes. Whisk milk into flour mixture and constantly stir until mixture thickens and begins to boil. Lower heat to simmer; stir in Ranch and cheese until smooth. Pour into a fondue pot and sprinkle with paprika or green onion, if desired. Serve with dippers.Serves: 4

Chocolate Fondue:
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream, reserve 1/4 cup to thin if fondue begins to thicken
4 bittersweet chocolate bars, chopped,
3 1/2 ounces each 2 tablespoons Frangelico or Amaretto liqueur, optional
1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds, optional
Suggested Dippables, choose 3 or 4 selections of the following: Hazelnut or almond biscotti Salted pretzel sticks Cubed pound cake Sliced bananas Stem strawberries Sectioned navel oranges Ripe fresh diced pineapple
Heat 1/2 cup cream in a heavy non-reactive saucepot over moderate heat until cream comes to a low boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add chocolate. Let the chocolate stand in hot cream 3 to 5 minutes to soften, then whisk chocolate together with the cream. Stir in liqueur and/or chopped nuts and transfer the fondue to a fondue pot or set the mixing bowl on a rack above a small lit candle. If fondue becomes too thick, stir in reserved cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, to desired consistency. Arrange your favorite dippables in piles on a platter along side chocolate fondue with fondue forks, bamboo skewers or seafood forks, as utensils, for dipping.

Some notes: I added Port instead of the liqueur and I also added 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. It was great this way! The last time I made this I used Raspberry vodka instead and it is great as well. It really adds something to the chocolate. I think it would be fun to play around with different flavored vodkas/liqueurs and see what tastes best! If you are heating up the chocolate later (if you actually have any left over!) be careful and heat it up very slowly or else it will burn. I like to just pop it in the microwave in a glass dish and microwave for about 20 seconds at a time and stir each time. It only needs a little to heat back up.

The fondue went over well--we chowed down and stuffed ourselves and then settled in for an exciting episode of "Lost". And I had more for lunch the next day :-)

OK...

I keep trying to start a blog and I never seem to keep up with it. Everything always sounds silly after a few days and I think to myself, "why do I want to say that on the Internet where everyone in the world can "hear" me?" The only blog I have liked keeping is my bakespace blog, but it is small and simple and doesn't have pictures, so I decided to start one more time and see if I can keep up with it.

A little background on me: I just moved here to New York a month ago with my husband Joe. We are both actors, so we are here to follow our dreams and shake things up. I am currently waiting tables at a great restaurant with unbelievable food and that is teaching me sooo much (now I can tell you the difference between speck, prosciutto, copa and sopresata on our meat platter :-). I love to cook and I love to eat. The city has already overwhelmed me with the number of restaurants, bars, types of cuisine, tiny bodegas. If I am ever having a bad day and doubt living here I just remind myself of all of the great food that is available to me and it brightens my mood.

I hope if you read this blog that you will enjoy the food adventures I go on and laugh a little and maybe learn a little, too. Thanks for reading!