Thursday, February 28, 2013

One Door Closes, Another Opens...

I know I'm digressing a bit from what the core of my blog is about, but I really did want to take an entry to share some of my experiences over the past week.  I think it's important to face things your afraid of, things that you wish you could forget about.  In the past few days, I've tackled two of my 'demons' if you will, and I do feel an enlightened sense of closure because of it.

The first was completing my first half marathon.  No, I didn't run it as quickly as I had initially wanted to, but you know what - I finished it.  Back in high school, I managed to fake being sick on mile run day three out of four years because I hated the idea of running so much.  Looking back, a mile seemed so far to me then and I just ran thirteen of them.  I conquered something that I honestly never thought I would do and I'm damn proud of myself for it.  Will I run another one?  Maybe.  I did learn to enjoy the training process and the actual act of running, so we'll see - no commitments as of yet.

Completing the half really freed me of the thought that I'm limited in what I can do.  Accomplishing something that I didn't think was possible really opened my eyes to what I can do if I just put my mind to it.  There's no benefit to doubting yourself.  I accept that I'm going to try things and some won't be success the first go around.  That's okay.  I never would have completed the half if I didn't try.

The second piece of closure I got this past week really helped me mentally move past a chapter in my life that I've tried to put behind me for a while now.  When I left my position with Disney, it was definitely abrupt.  I went from being happy-go-lucky in my job one day to sitting in an HR office telling my Director of Operations to go fornicate himself [not quite in those words, but you get the idea] for trying to tell me what I could and could not do in my personal life.  I was left with a bitter, jaded resentment toward the entire company, and to a point, my entire experience there.  I know there will always be people in my life who find joy in the suffering of others and I fell privy to the games these people play.  Unfortunately, it took me five years to realize that maybe that day wasn't meant to destroy me, but push me in the right direction.

Returning to Walt Disney World, on the five year anniversary of my quitting, was almost poetic.  Its feels odd to say that a day at a theme park was an emotional experience for me, but it really was.  For the first time, I was returning to a place that had been such an important part of my life for so many years.  It's a place that fell from the highest regard to the deepest resentment, literally overnight and going back, as a guest and experiencing it from a different perspective truly did give me the closure I didn't even really know I needed.

Will I ever love Disney as much as I did on my first College Program?  Probably not.  The 'magic' is different for me now.  Before, I saw it as this amazing world that was created to evoke fantasy and wonder - a place where you could go and escape the pangs of reality.  Unfortunately, I don't get whisked away anymore but I do understand, from a different perspective, how people do.  Instead, my magic came from triggering the positive memories I created there and remembering the great people I've had the change to get know.

Going back as a guest actually helped me put a lot of the negative feelings I had behind me and really appreciate my experience there for what it was.  I gained knowledge and a skill set that have proven invaluable to me in my life since, I was exposed to people and experiences I never would have been otherwise and I had the opportunity to impact the lives of both my cast and guests - hopefully for the better.

Again, I'm sorry to digress on such a tangent from my typical posts, I just needed to speak my mind and share what's been going through my mind the past few days.  It feels good to have achieved something I never thought I could and to truly be able to put a chapter of my life behind me and look back with positive reflection.

Tonight, I'll be creating a dessert bar for my friend Evelyn's 5th birthday party on Saturday and I'll have plenty of fun princess-themed recipes to share with you all soon!  Also, please click here to become a follower and be eligible for my dessert give away on March 17th!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Assessing Your Relationship with Food

All too often in today’s world, food is portrayed as an enemy, something to be feared.  This view truly saddens and concerns me when I think to future generations and how they will perceive eating, nutrition and the overall culinary world.  Although I don’t have any children of my own at this point, I do often think of how I will raise my future offspring in comparison to what I observe in my casual people watching. 

We cultivate our relationship with food at an incredibly young age – far before we truly understand what we’re eating.  Looking back, I’m eternally grateful to my parents for exposing me to spices and flavors often shunned by small children.  I will never fully understanding the youthful opposition to eating anything green.  Again, being fed broccoli, spinach, kale and green bean all throughout my life, vegetables were never viewed as adverse. 

As we grow up, the media plays an integral role in shaping our views on eating.  Low carb?  No carb?  Low fat?  Avoid high fructose corn syrup?  Our minds are being pulled in so many different directions everyday that it dose become challenging to build a foundation for that healthy relationship with food. 

I’ve never been a petite person – and I’m okay with that.  I’ve always strived to be healthy and eat well, but I’m never going to be a size 2.  I think really accepting that was one of the first steps to really developing my understanding of what I see as the core to any food relationship - moderation and indulgence. 

Just to clarify, these aren’t meant to be opposing polar viewpoints.   I don’t interpret indulgence as gluttony or excess, but rather something out of the ordinary – a treat if you will.  In my opinion, indulgence and moderation are extremely harmonious words and should always be used in conjunction. 

When I talk about “building your relationship with food,” I’m primarily talking about finding a balance between excess and starvation.  Not looking to food as a comfort source consumed in excess or detesting and loathing food for fear of weight gain.  I love food an there’s nothing wrong with that – it’s just not my closest confident or mortal enemy.  

I challenge you all to really think about what your personal relationship with food is.  Recognizing the love/hate dichotomy we all have is something that can truly help you establish a healthy, happy balance where our food is not only enjoyable, but nutritious and wholesome as well. 

Drink Your Greens!

Having spent this past week in Boca Raton, Florida, I  have absolutely fallen in love with the Juiceateria.  James is participating in a consumer products conference, which means we have literally had grocery bags of processed food dropped off to our room on a daily basis.  [On our drive up to Orlando today, we're dropping most of it off at a food pantry - I hate to waste things, even if I don't want to eat them.] Despite a few highlights (thank you General Mills for the Lara Bars), I've tried to avoid the pile of snacks to the best of my ability.

Not wanting to spend $30 on a sandwich at the pool bar or resort restaurants every day (no, I'm no exaggerating), I decided to take daily walks off the property and explore the area.  On my first walk, I was lucky enough to find the Juiceateria.  In an unassuming strip mall of nail salons and restaurants on Mizner Boulevard, the cafe provides fresh pressed juices and smoothies, along with other delightful vegan creations including 'Cheesy' Vegetable Noodles and Chia Seed Granola Parfaits.

Their signature juice, the Immune Builder, is a delicious blend of parsley, spinach, kale, cucumber, celery, apple and lemon that packs sweet and tangy notes with green nutrition.  Yes, it dose have a vegetal quality (which I personally love) but the apple really does a great job making it more approachable for those who may not be looking for a liquid salad.

James' personal favorite drink of the week as the Bella Berry Banana - mixed berries, banana, nut milk and vanilla.  Less green, but still a massive improvement from the world of Campbell's Soup and Lean Cuisine he was immersed in.

Honestly, I can't say enough good things about them.  The service was prompt and friendly on each of my visits, the cafe was spotless and all of my juices were pressed right in front of me.  Now, if only we had one in Hudson, New Hampshire...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Guest Post - Courtesy of the Big Easy

First and foremost, I want to take a moment to thank my good friend Jenny Morrison for both The Tipsy Cupcake's new banner and for taking the time to write a guest post for us on her trip to New Orleans.  Not quite in the theme of healthy eating, but it certainly makes me want to tear into a freshly cooked beignet.  :-)

This year for my wedding anniversary, my husband and I decided not to exchange gifts but rather, reward ourselves with a trip. Most of our time together is spent wiping snots from a two-year old's nose, breaking up sibling fights and catching flying objects mid-air, so we felt there was never a better time than now. I'm not sure where New Orleans came from or the whole idea that Mardi Gras was an experience we absolutely had endure, but somehow the thought became a provoking one and with that, our choice was made. We booked a spot at The Saint Hotel on Canal Street, purchased our over priced plane tickets and chose to stay during the height of Mardi Gras. I think the initial allure for me was the food. I will travel anywhere for a fantastic meal. It's why I spent a year convincing my husband we had to go to Italy. "The sauce!" I exclaimed: "Think about the sauce!" Anyways, my father was a Southern gentleman (well maybe not gentleman but he was from the south) and what I rarely admit to people is that his food was just as influential as my Nana's food. So maybe New Orleans just sort of whispered to me. And I quietly accepted its beckoning call.

I will say this: the people of New Orleans did not deliver. Let me re-phrase that, the people visiting New Orleans did not deliver. The restaurants of New Orleans, gave me everything I wanted and then some. I don't usually allow myself to just order food without much thought but I did here, reaching out to new tastes with open arms. Everything I ate I enjoyed immensely, there was not a dining experience that I can't speak highly of, everything was delicious and everyone who served us was amazing. Restaurants helped us escape the crazy Mardi Gras environment, while most people were enjoying chicken on a stick, we were diving deep into the real deal.

My favorite experience was at Cafe du Monde. We spent $12 and I had the best beignets and coffee: ever. They only serve three things: beignets, coffee and hot chocolate and they're not trying to be pretty about it. It's a place with no hostess where you have to fight for a seat. They bring you what you order and expect you not to stick around. Also, there is enough powdered sugar on these things to ski on and everyone is walking around with pant legs covered with evidence. But, the pillow soft texture is like nothing I have ever had and the coffee warmed my soul. I plan to recreate these gems here in my kitchen and I suggest you do too.

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup evaporated milk
7 cups bread flour
1/4 cup shortening
Nonstick spray
Oil, for deep-frying
3 cups confectioners' sugar

- Mix water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.
- In another bowl, beat the eggs, salt and evaporated milk together.  Mix egg mixture to the yeast mixture. In a separate bowl, measure out the bread flour. Add 3 cups of the flour to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Add the shortening and continue to stir while adding the remaining flour. Remove dough from the bowl, place onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray. Put dough into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise in a warm place for at least 2 hours.
- Preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.
- Add the confectioners' sugar to a paper or plastic bag and set aside.
- Roll the dough out to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into 1-inch squares. Deep-fry, flipping constantly, until they become a golden color. After beignets are fried, drain them for a few seconds on paper towels, and then toss them into the bag of confectioners' sugar. Hold bag closed and shake to coat evenly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cherry Glazed Duck Breast

A few weeks ago, we were having dinner with some friends and it was uncovered that they had never tried duck before, something I consider a travesty.  How can you live twenty some odd years without ever trying the juicy, succulence encased in a golden, cracking that is a perfectly cooked duck breast?  Needless to say, this needed to be remedied. 

Duck can be a tricky thing to cook; t’s challenging to render out enough fat while still maintaining a perfectly pink breast and crisp skin.  Thinking about this brought me to my copy of Modernist Cuisine and arose the idea of cooking it sous vide. 

For anyone unfamiliar with the sous vide cooking technique, it’s kind of a 21st century slow cooker.  If you have the luxury of cooking with a sous vide machine, it’s a large water bath that holds a constant temperature to cook your food at a low heat over a long period of time.  Food is vacuum-sealed and immersed in the water for a specified period of time.  If not, no fear – you can create an at home version quite simply. 

Take a large stockpot and fill it about three fourths of the way with water.  Fit a calibrated candy thermometer to the side of the pan.  It may take a bit of trial and error to achieve the right temperature, it’s pretty easy to maintain once you get it right.  Use a simmer burner if your stove offers the option.  In lieu of a vacuum sealer, you can simply put your ingredients, seasonings and marinades into a Ziploc bag and press out as much air as possible.  Tie a string around the top of the bag (gather it just below the zipper) and suspend it in the pan with a wooden spoon across the top.  Voila!  You just created your very own, at home sous vide contraption.   The only major downfall is that it doesn’t quite come with the same ‘set it and forget it’ mentality of a commercial machine. 

When preparing my duck breasts, I added smoked sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, one tablespoon of soy sauce, three sprigs of fresh thyme and about two tablespoons of Morello cherry juice.  If you’re lucky enough to live in the Pacific Northwest, fresh cherries are obviously the best option.  Unfortunately, the ones that make it to New England in January don’t bring quite the same piquancy and floral sweetness.  Trader Joe’s makes a jarred version that makes a pretty strong substitute in a pinch.  If you’re using fresh fruit, juice about twelve cherries or so to yield two tablespoons.  Seal up your bag and you’re ready to go.  For two duck breasts, it should take about three hours in a 120-degree water bath.  I would add about 8-10 minutes for each additional breast. 

About 20 minutes before the sous vide process is complete, place a cast iron skillet in a 400-degree oven to preheat it.  Also, in a small saucepan, begin heating about 20 or so cherries with 3 tablespoons of raw cane sugar, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (if using fresh cherries, add about ¼ cup of water, if using jarred, add ¼ cup of the packing juice).  Let this simmer down while you finish off the duck. 

Now, remove the duck breast from the bag and gently rinse them off to remove any residual fat that may have leached out.  It may look a little sketchy but I promise, this is completely normal.   Place your skillet on the stovetop and crack the burner to full power.  Skin-side down, sear off the breast to render the fat and crisp the skin for about 12-15 minutes.  Turn the duck skin side up for about 2 minutes, just to reheat the opposite side of the meat.  Allow the breast to rest for at least three minutes prior to cutting or you’ll leach out all of the wonderful, glorious juices you’ve worked so hard to seal in. 

Toss thinly sliced Yukon gold potatoes into your skillet for about 8 minutes to crisp them up in the rendered duck fat and simply blanche a few spears of asparagus in boiling water for about two minutes.  Slice your duck breast on a diagonal into ½ inch wide slices, top with your cherry reduction and you’ve just prepared a meal worthy of a world class chef. 

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Monday, February 18, 2013

An occasional rant is good for the soul...

I’m not a fan of using my blog as a forum for rants, but while traveling yesterday, I did a lot of people watching and being who I am, I made several observations on the way people eat.  The following, while being a bit of a tirade on American eating habits, is something I do want to put out there. 

While I’ll never be a hardcore dieter, I am one to keep an eye on what I eat and to an extent, count calories.  Unfortunately, I was not blessed with a great metabolism and every french fry has its consequences.  That being said, I’m an advocate of the ‘eat what you want, but in moderation’ mantra.  I can’t live off romaine lettuce alone, nor would I want to.  Part of the joy of food is trying new and exciting things and yes, once in a while, those new and exciting things are cooked in butter or smothered in cheese. 

I think the single biggest issue we have in this country is portion size.  Did you know that the average restaurant meal is fives times the size it was in 1950?  Five times!  That’s absurd to me.  Think of major chain in this country (not to name names or anything), but do I really needs four cups of pasta, a bucket of diet coke or an 18 ounce hamburger?  On top of that, we’re eating higher levels of sugar (hello high fructose corn syrup) and sodium than ever.  Our bodies are programed to crave sugar and salt – it’s a defense mechanism against starvation built into our anatomy – so essentially, we’re fighting nature everyday.  The issue is, most people would be satisfied with a quarter of your average restaurant portion but when a gargantuan platter is placed in front of them, the battle against human instinct begins. 

This brings me to the next issue in my rant – cravings.  Our bodies are designed to crave certain foods when we’re suffering from a nutrient deficiency.  Contemporary diets urge us to fight our cravings; you know, have will power, when in all actuality, a craving is your body’s way of telling your it’s lacking something.  The trick is to be able to interpret your craving and going back to my previous point, enjoy it in moderation.  Can’t get that 40-ounce porterhouse steak out of your mind?  You’re most likely lacking iron in your diet – but try a 6 to 8 ounce filet instead.  I guarantee you’ll feel just as satisfied (and considerably less bloated afterwards).  One of my craving weakness is ice cream – typically spawned by a calcium deficiency. Personally, if I succumb to a craving rather than battling it, I find it easier to indulge without over doing it.  Have a soft serve frozen yogurt today and prevent that Ben & Jerry’s bender tomorrow.  It’s all about balance people – find yours and I promise, you’ll be living happier and eating healthier.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Great Food is Everywhere

I've been called a food snob on more than one occasion.  Heck, I think our friends are scared to invite us over for dinner because they're afraid I'll be critical of what they cook.  In all honesty, that couldn't be farther from the truth.  Yes, when we have people over for dinner, I do tend to go a little overboard.  I love cooking meals in plated courses with elaborate presentations because I find it fun.  It's kind of my thing.  On the same token, James and I are also hardcore fans of good frozen pizza and frequently order  Domino's thin crust after a long day.  Basically, what I'm trying to say is, just because I love to cook innovative, fancy meals doesn't mean we eat like that on a daily basis.

This leads me to the bulk of my post.  Be open minded when it comes to food.  There is some amazing food out there in the most unsuspecting places.

In case you're not aware, the food truck revolution is in full effect.  I'm not talking about the quilted metal coffee trucks that pull up to construction sites with pre-made sandwiches, I'm talking about a full blown restaurant on wheels.  Made to order, hand crafted food curbside - you can't beat that for convenience.  In major cities like New York or Boston, there are literally hundreds of trucks serving up everything from tacos to handmade ramen to chicken and waffles.  Most have websites, Facebook pages or twitter accounts and are pretty easy to track down.  If you're ever in Boston, check out Roxy's Grilled Cheese and Bon Me - two of my personal favorites (Roxy's Rosemary Truffle Fries are absolutely to die for).

The airport is one of the last places I'd expect to find exciting meal options, but Earl of Sandwich in terminal E at Boston's Logan Airport is something I always look forward to when I'm flying.  I fell in love with Earl during my time working in Walt Disney World, as they also have a location in the Downtown Disney Marketplace.  I've referred numerous people there as one of the best value lunches available on Disney property.  For under $7, you get a generous sized sandwich on a freshly baked mini loaf of bread with top quality fillings.  One of my personal favorites has always been the caprese (tomato, mozzarella and basil with an olive oil drizzle) but there are countless great options.

How about your local supermarket?  Have you ever checked out the prepared foods section at a Whole Foods or Fresh Market for quick and easy meal options?  I had a preconception against precooked food for the longest time until I realized, many markets have restaurant quality kitchens and prepare their food fresh throughout the day.  Many smaller markets also have incredible options.  In Providence, Rhode Island, there's a store on Federal Hill called Constantino's Venda Ravioli that makes incredible eggplant parmesan and in Salem, NH, check out Tuscan Market for their fire roasted tomato antipasti.  Heck, my favorite pad thai comes from H-Mart's food court and costs under $8 for a plate that James and I split and often can't finish.

Check out ethnic areas of your city (China Town, Little Italy and the like) for some authentic world fare, often prepared by first or second generation immigrants who brought over their treasured family recipes.

Sometimes, that unsuspecting hole-in-the wall can completely knock your socks off.  Try being open minded and going a little outside the box - you might surprise yourself.  Think of it as a culinary adventure!  To me, loving food doesn't mean gourmet fare seven nights a week, it means being daring enough to try something new and finding that hidden gem.

I'd love it if my readers would share some of their favorite unexpected food finds!  I'm always looking for new and exciting places to try.

Remember, become a blog follower [click the button in the upper right hand portion of the page] and I'll donate $1 to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for every member as of March 15th.  Also, you'll be entered for a chance to win a customized box of baked goods, prepared especially for you, with love, from The Tipsy Cupcake.