Monday, July 19, 2010

i confess: salted chocolate chip cookies

... I watch the Bachelorette. Ooooh I'm so embarrassed about it! I've never watched a full season before this one with Ali and it's a sick addiction I can only compare to my affinity for pulled pork or chocolate chip cookies. It's also a curious suggestion: matching two people on a reality TV show and expecting them to get married at the end? And have that match last forever? Seems implausible but I can't get enough! A friend of mine has even dedicated most of her blog to the inner-workings of Ali's heart.

But doesn't it take more than a few months of traveling the world and one-on-one dates to fall in love with your future husband? We grow up and (usually) fall in love several times before we find our true match, and it's easy to relate long-term relationships with "the one." But as we get older I think past relationships work in our favor to help find what we are looking for in a mate - so maybe all it really takes is a few wonderful trips and a real connection.

Tonight I salute Ali with my tried and true favorite cookie, and wish her the best in love. After all, she's just a girl standing in front of (two) men, asking them to love her.

I can't even remember how I found this recipe - it's been in my browser for so long! And I apologize for the lack of photos but am directing you to the source of my inspiration. Dana's photos are delicious and mine turned out just as lovely, a true testament to the recipe! There's a ton of sugar but don't freak out - they're worth it!

Ashley's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Not Without Salt via Dana

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup Turbinado sugar
1 3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
12 oz. chocolate
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 360 F.

Cream the butter and the sugars on medium-high speed until light, 4-5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times during the process. Continue mixing while adding the eggs one at a time (make sure each egg is incorporated before adding the next). Add the vanilla. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula. Combine the flour, soda and salt in another bowl. Mix with a whisk. With the machine on low, slowly add almost all the flour. Reserve just a bit of the mixture. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add the last bit of flour along with the chocolate. Stir with a spatula until just combined.

Using a large ice cream scoop, scoop out mounds of dough making sure there is about 2 inches between each cookie. Do not crowd them and there is no need to press the dough down. Sprinkle each mound with a bit of sea salt.

Bake sheets, one at a time, until the cookies are lightly golden on the edges and a bit gooey in the center, about 12 minutes. Do not overbake! Remove sheet from oven and allow to sit undisturbed for two minutes. Then carefully transfer cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining sheets.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

i heart wine: napa recap

It's certainly turning out to be that kind of July - when I'm escaping every weekend on one adventure or another. For the fourth I flew North, this past weekend I flew West and in two weeks I fly South for "take 2" of last summer's Gulf Shores beach adventure. I'm so blessed to be traveling almost every weekend and taking in new sights and sounds with friends, so this week's post is just that: a recap of the sights and (delicious) tastes of the Napa Valley this weekend's trip.

Instead of adding a recipe I'm giving more poignant advice in the form of Napa area winery and restaurant recommendations. I love getting advice from friends instead of going in blind, so this priceless, right? If you're planning a trip, start jotting these down (and if you aren't planning one, start doing it!):


Bottega, Yountville - An obvious choice with a great wait staff and cozy patio to sip wine while you're waiting for your table (or while you're stalking Top Chef Masters Michael Chiarello - yes, I did - while he makes his rounds among the guests). Get the Polenta and the Pneu Pinot Noir. Amazing. Oh, and I met this lovely wine blogger on the patio - check her out!

Brix, Napa - A nice spot on Hwy 29 for a date at night or a patio lunch overlooking their gorgeous gardens. The oysters were amazing with a glass of Seghesio Arneis.

Carpe Diem Wine Bar, Downtown Napa - Great newly-opened family run spot with a bunch of locals behind the bar. We loved the smiles and recommendation of the "Taken" Cabernet Sauvignon by Josh Phelps.

The French Laundry, Yountville - Well, duh. It's only one of the biggest foodie mecca's in the States. I was on a budget and couldn't bring myself to throw down the $250 prix fixe for the 9-course tasting menu, but mark my words: I WILL SOMEDAY.

Ad Hoc, Yountville - Thomas Keller's spot with simple, family style food that is winning awards all over town. The menu changes daily and you get what they want to cook in a place that feels like home. We didn't get here (we tried our hardest - make reservations, people!) but EVERYONE told me to go.


Cakebread Cellars, Rutherford - Gorgeous grounds full of sunflowers and herb gardens topped off with a beautiful facility with a state of the art kitchen! We took an appetizer cooking class with Chef Thomas and everything from the grilled peaches wrapped in prociutto to grilled lamb skewers with mint pesto to mini crab cakes was delicious. Chef Tom is the best!

Alpha + Omega, Rutherford - Really beautifully designed tasting room and separate dining room for events. We got a bottle of the '07 Chardonnay and sat on the patio in oversized outdoor couches overlooking their fountain. Bliss.

Ehlers Estate, St. Helena - Amazing wines and beautiful old farmhouse tasting room. Plus it's the only non-profit winery I've ever heard of. 100% of the proceeds go to the Leducq Foundation to fund international cardiovascular research. The Ehler's Merlot and 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon are incredible.

Miner Family Vineyards, Oakville - Lovely estate on the hillside with views of the valley from chairs on their porch. We loved the Miner '06 Oracle.

Mumm, Napa - Fun place for yummy bubbles on their misted patio - but make a reservation to reserve a spot. The Devaux Ranch was delicious and they had multiple champagne flights to choose from if you wanted to try a bunch.

Luna Vineyards, Napa - Also off the Silverado Trail, Luna's tasting room is luxurious and inviting. We had the '06 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon on the porch and chatted with their darling events director.

Girard Winery, Yountville - Lastly I have to add Girard right at the edge of Yountville. Their tasting room is open till 8pm (score!) so it's a great way to end a long day of tasting. The '06 Mixed Blacks is a favorite and I loved the crisp Sauvignon Blanc.

Other notable local wines to try if you're in the area:

Renteria Pinot Noir
Patz & Hall Pinot Noir
Reverie Barbera

It was a great trip with amazing friends and a lot of California wine. You just can't believe how magical wine country is until you're there! Here are a few shots from the trip... doesn't get much better than this!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

no-bake: ice cream cake

Hawwwt dog! And Happy 4th! I can't believe it's already July... hope this past weekend found you NOT melting and instead, enjoying fireworks, cool drinks, sparklers, and lots of summery eats. We stole away to Newport, Rhode Island for a breather by the sea and had a LOVE-ly time noshing on fresh raw oysters (the Blue Points are my fav), clam chowdah, steamed lobstah and sipping on some really great local Chardonnay. Here are a few shots from our weekend:

As promised, this post is steamy oven-free and a perfect summery dessert for the Chocolate heavy-hitters out there. It was Bf's birthday last week and when asked (by his BAKER girlfriend) what his favorite cake was, I got "ice cream cake" in response. Despite the lack of flour and butter, I was not to be outdone and found a Rachael Ray recipe that at least involved some skill (OK, well not much).

This ice cream cake is just like it was when I was a kid -- except it looks a little more sophisticated and is much more decadent. One word: GANACHE. And lots of it! I customized it with some of his favorites -- Ben & Jerry's mint chip and a Haagen Dazs double chocolate to add some personal flair.

This was delicious and the only thing I'd change is less ganache (it was really rich) and a more careful hand when lining the pan with plastic wrap. The ganache and ice cream got imprinted with the plastic wrap lines, but the cake popped right out and had lovely (and delicious) layers - and looked pretty when I sliced it.

If the oven's too hot for a summery fruit pie, grab two pints of your favorite ice cream and indulge. It's worth it.

Triple Chocolate Ice Cream Cake

1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy cream
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 12-oz marble pound cake, such as Entenmann's, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened
20 chocolate wafers, such as Nabisco brand
1 pint chocolate ice cream, softened

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil over medium-high heat. Put the chocolate chips in a heatproof medium bowl and pour the boiling cream over the chocolate. Let sit until the chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes. Stir the mixture with a fork for about 2 minutes, until the ganache is smooth.

Line a nonstick loaf pan with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap, allowing a 4-inch overhang on all sides.

Pour half of the ganache (1 cup) evenly into the lined pan and spread to cover the base. Cover the ganache with a single layer of tightly packed cake slices; be sure the layer is flat and even. Working quickly, spread the vanilla ice cream evenly over the pound cake. Cover the ice cream with a layer made of half of the chocolate wafers. Spread the remaining ganache evenly over the wafers, then top the ganache with another layer, using all of the remaining wafers, and place the cake in the freezer for about 30 minutes to chill and firm up.

Remove the cake from the freezer and spread the chocolate ice cream over the wafers. Top with another flat, single layer of tightly packed slices of pound cake, trimming 1 or 2 slices to fill in the gaps (there will be a few slices left over). The cake may be slightly higher than the pan. Cover the cake completely with the plastic overhang and freeze until firm, at least 5 hours or overnight.

To loosen the ice cream cake from the pan, open the plastic wrap and invert the pan over a flat serving platter. Remove the plastic wrap, then slice and serve immediately.
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