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Taste of Syracuse

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Zippity doo dah! Zippity day! My, oh my, what a wonderful day!

Over the course of the year, Syracuse hosts a wide variety of festivals, celebrating everything from jazz, food, wine, film, beer, heritage, and crafts. Even in the freezing winter weather, Syracusians head outside for Chili cook-offs and Martini mix-offs. I’ve had the pleasure (and disappointment…I’m talking about you, pitiful Syracuse Octoberfest) of attending many of these festivals.  But, the one I look most forward to every year is the Taste of Syracuse!

**I should note that I do not categorize The Great New York State Fair as a mere festival. We’ll talk about the fair in 82 days. (But, I’m not counting down or anything.) Mmmm…deep-fried oreos, cinnamon-sprinkled funnel cake, wine slushies.  Mmmm…

Focus, Amy! Focus!

During the annual Taste of Syracuse, local restaurants take over the Clinton Square  area of downtown Syracuse, each offering a $1 sampling of food. For a few bucks, you can stuff yourself silly. There’s also live music, children’s entertainment, a beer sampling tent, wine tasting area, and an assortment of vendors. Absolutely my kind of festival!

So, today the family and I headed down to gorge ourselves on $1 treats.  A few pics for your viewing enjoyment…

Stromboli from Cam's Pizzeria. Delicious, but doesn't hold a candle to my Uncle Tom's stromboli!

Chicken Riggies from Dominick's Restaurant. Riggies are a Central New York specialty, featuring chicken and pasta in a slightly spicy, tomato-cream sauce. Excellent!

Meatball Sub from J.J.'s. Fantastic!

Gulasz-Beef Stew from Eva's European Sweets. Very tender beef and flavorful broth.

Keftedes (Greek meatball) with Tzatziki Sauce from Kiki's Authentic Greek Cuisine. Well seasoned meatball. Perfect tzatziki!

Baked Beans from Dinosaur Barbecue. Oh yeah! OH YEAH! Best baked beans ever!

My husband, savoring the baked beany aroma.

Bang Bang Shrimp from Bonefish Grill. Spicylicious!

Fudge from Em's Specialty Candies. (See the pictures of the kids for reviews.)

A positive review for the fudge!

Undecided between the fudge and a homemade hot dog from Liehs and Steigerwald.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake from Big Mama's Cheesecake. Luscious!

Chicken Spiedie from Charlie's Famous Steak Pit. Spiedies are marinated, skewered, and grilled chicken, native to Binghamton, New York.

Hot Apple Fritter from Navarind Orchard. Crisp slice of apple, dipped in batter, fried, and coated in cinnamon sugar. Doesn't get much better than that!

Cheesecake Calzone from Kalzonies. Two thumbs up from my husband.

Full bellies. Happy family.

In appreciation of Long Island weddings…

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The morning of my friend’s wedding, my husband could not stop himself from eating two bagels; one with bacon, egg, and cheese and the other with scallion cream cheese. I chastised him, “What are you thinking?? Remember that you are attending a Long Island wedding today!”

For those uninitiated in Long Island weddings, you must prepare. For the feast will be more plentiful than anything you’ve ever experienced.

The cocktail hour itself is a bountiful buffet.  Crisp vegetables, fresh fruits, cheese, and olives adorn one table. A short walk away you’ll find a French crepe station with your choice of seafood or fruit crepes. Tables of fried rice with sesame chicken, sushi, and seafood paella are scattered throughout the cocktail area.  And don’t forget the roast turkey carving station or mashed potato bar!

Vegetable Crudite and Dip

Wine Bar

Mashed Potato Bar

Mashed Potato Bar Toppings

I had sweet potatoes with marshmallows, brown sugar, and BACON!!

Roast Turkey, anyone?

My first plate of cocktail hour goodies

After the cocktail hour, the party moves into the ballroom where a salad, decked with cheese and adorned with fresh fruits is waiting at your table.

Choose your main entree from the delicious options. But don’t worry, because you’ll have the opportunity for seconds of any entree!

Chicken Florentine

Filet of Norwegian Salmon en Croute aka "Croissanty the Whale"

Those things, which look like mushrooms, are actually roasted potatoes.

And then there is dessert, of course!

Bananas Foster Flambe, alongside an ice cream sundae bar.

Have I mentioned the open bar, with drinks refilled faster than they can be emptied? (My husband was fairly certain that our waiter was challenging him to some sort of drinking contest.)

Pour me another, bartender!

A beautiful wedding for a beautiful couple.  Wishing them a well-deserved lifetime of love and happiness. Cheers!

Cheers!

New York Bacon, Egg, and Cheese on a Bagel

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I was born and raised on Long Island, New York. With countless aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, parents, and grandparents still residing on the island, there are many occasions for visits home. And, one thing makes every trip complete: Bacon, Egg, and Cheese on a New York bagel.

Here’s the catch though.  The sandwich must be prepared at the bagel shop.  Many an eager host has offered to make us bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwiches. I’ve got eggs, bacon, and cheese in the fridge, they say.  Just pick up the bagels and I’ll make you a sandwich. Our hearts pound a little faster and we feel flushed. How can we put this politely, without offending our gracious host? “No, no…it’s ok, we’ll just pick up the sandwiches. Thanks though!” What?  You don’t like my bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches?? Oh no. This isn’t going well.  We’ve hurt their feelings. How do we explain this? It’s just that, well, it’s just… Oh, I don’t know!  But, it’s how it has to be.

I think there’s a certain magic that happens when the egg hits the hot bagel shop griddle. Perhaps it’s the aroma of freshly baked bagels in the air? It might even have something to do with the white paper it’s so perfectly wrapped in.

Oh, and the bagels!! I hesitate to say only New York bagels, because it is not a statewide phenomenon. By New York bagels, I refer to downstate, New York City and Long Island bagels. Dense, chewy New York bagels. As a resident of Central New York, I can attest to the difference. Most bagels, outside of the downstate New York area, are more like rolls in a bagel disguise. They look like bagels, smell like bagels, and even feel like a bagel when your lips first touch the glossy exterior.  But inside, it’s just a piece of bread. So, so sad. Oddly enough, the one place that’s come closest to a New York style bagel was a small bagel shop we visited in Clearwater, Florida. Doughy and delicious bagels, with just the right amount of resistance to the bite. But, they did not make bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. So, so sad.

So, now we’re home.  Bag of Long Island bagels in hand. Happy that we have reason to return in the near future!

German Soft-Pretzel Sandwiches

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My best friends from college joke about how they’d vocalize a craving and within moments, I’d have found everything necessary and be halfway done making it. To be honest, I can’t actually think of one example of doing this. But, it sounds like something I’d do. Nowadays, my husband holds the magic lamp which makes all of his food cravings appear. Most of the time he just waits to see what I put in front of him. But every so often, he gets a hankering for something and I do what I can to bring it to fruition.

Such was the case last night, as my husband was scrolling through his iPhone and ran across a New York Times article entitled, Making Soft Pretzels the Old-Fashioned Way. You see, my husband has got a tiny, little obsession with pretzels; doughy, salty Bavarian pretzels. It all began just after our college graduation. We lived in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany for the summer and worked at an American-owned hotel.  I was a waitress and bartender in the hotel’s main restaurant.  My husband worked in housekeeping. We spent most of our evenings at German beer festivals drinking huge glasses of Bavarian Hefeweissen and eating pretzels. On days off, we’d huff and puff our way up the Kramer Mountain (with little old German ladies swiftly biking past us) to our favorite biergarten, informally known as the Halfway House, perched halfway up the mountain, overlooking all of Garmisch.  A couple of beers and a pretzel later and we’d hike back down. What a summer! It’s really no wonder that a pretzel obsession developed.

Here in the states, good German beer is readily available. There is a wide selection of imported Hefeweissen, Dunkel Bock and Pilsners right at my local grocery store. But, pretzels are a different story. Good Bavarian-style soft pretzels are not as easy to find. Over the years, my husband has been on an endless search for good pretzels.  He buys a pretzel whenever he has the opportunity, whether it be at a baseball game, the mall, or from a street vendor. So far, the closest we’ve found to an authentic Bavarian pretzel is at the Hofbrauhaus in Las Vegas. Without fail, the very best part of every Vegas trip is our evening at the Hofbrauhaus, singing along with the live German music while consuming as much German beer, pretzels, and food as we can before taking turns rolling each other back to the hotel.

But, Vegas is far away and there are no Germany trips in our near future. And so, this morning, while my husband was busy at work, I decided to try my hand at pretzel making. I poked around online for a bit looking for an authentic soft pretzel recipe. Turns out that the key to making really good soft pretzels is dipping the dough into a lye bath just prior to baking.  Lye is a highly caustic substance, the use of which necessitates safety measures, such as gloves and masks, to prevent chemical burns. Lye is used in the curing processes of numerous foods.  It is also used in drain cleaners and soap. I’m all for adventurous cooking, but something about using a product in my food, which can be found next to the Drano, just sits funny with me.  Not to mention that I’m not wild about using something which can cause chemical burns, in proximity of my ever-present children. Either way, it doesn’t appear that lye is commonly available anymore.  One online pretzel recipe linked to Amazon.com as a source for food-grade lye, but the lye I found on there was listed in the Automotive section.  Yeah, that’s not really going to work for me. So, I did a little more searching around and found a number of recipes which use a baking soda bath, prior to baking, to achieve that pretzelrific exterior browning, including a recipe from Alton Brown.  Alton Brown knows his stuff! I trust his expertise completely. That, and 234 positive reviews of the recipe convinced me that it was worth a try. I followed his recipe exactly, only substituting coarse-ground sea salt for the pretzel salt. I made a few pretzels and several rolls to use for sandwiches.

Waiting for the dough to rise

Expert pretzel roller

Egg wash

Basket o' pretzels

Pretzel Roll with Smoked Gouda, Black Forest Ham, Thinly Sliced Pear, and German Mustard

Pretzel sandwiches would be outstanding with any number of fillings.  I chose to use Black Forest Ham, Smoked Gouda, thinly sliced pear, and German-style mustard. My husband is in for a real treat when he gets home for lunch!

Enjoy with your favorite German brew.

Prost!

Prost!!

Woolverton Inn Lemon-Almond Biscotti

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I can’t remember how I fell upon the Woolverton Inn.  It may have been during my online search for a wedding venue. I’m not exactly sure, but I do know that I fell in love with it instantly. A wedding at the Woolverton would have been beyond-words lovely.  Though we chose to have our wedding at a beautiful historic house closer to our home, I never forgot about the Woolverton Inn. Many times, I visited their website and daydreamed about spending some time there. We finally had the opportunity in September, 2006. It was our first wedding anniversary. I was newly pregnant with our first son.  We had just announced our pregnancy at a surprise birthday party for my father. We had so much to celebrate. And the Woolverton Inn couldn’t have been a more perfect place to celebrate.

The Woolverton Inn in Stockton, NJ

Set in the midst of rolling hills, along the Delaware River, the Woolverton Inn was a tranquil escape from the rush of day to day life. The main building is a beautiful 1792 stone manor house, comfortably situated on 10 acres of land. A handful of private cottages are steps away. The grounds are peppered with beautiful gardens, frog filled ponds, and large open pastures with grazing sheep.

Tranquility

We stayed in one of the cottages, the Sojourn Loft, which featured a fireplace and a second level with jacuzzi tub and hammock. The featherbed on the mattress was so amazingly comfortable, that my husband later contacted the inn to order me one as a birthday gift.  My husband got an in-room massage on the first day and we spent another day strolling around nearby New Hope.  The surrounding area is full of interesting things to do, including wine tours, antiquing, hiking, and hot-air ballooning.  The inn even offers a package, which includes a bike rental and gourmet picnic lunch. There are many wonderful dining options in the surrounding towns and breakfast at the inn is indescribable. Seriously, you have to visit this place! I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Upstairs in the Sojourn Loft

I have so many wonderful memories from our short stay at the Woolverton. But one of the things which left an indelible impression on me was the biscotti! To be honest, I have no memories of tasting biscotti before the Woolverton.  I’m not certain if it’s that I never had it before then or whether their biscotti was just so delicious that it erased any other memory. (I’m inclined to believe it is the latter.) They kept a jar full of the fresh, sweet treat in the dining room at all times. I lost count on the number of biscotti I consumed during our time there. I apologize to the other guests for taking more than my fair share. I couldn’t help it.

As I was watching my son eat a biscotti the other day, I was instantly drawn back to the Woolverton Inn. I thought about the biscotti for a few days. Then, I started looking up biscotti recipes. Finally, I decided to send the inn a message to see if they’d be willing to share their recipe with me.  And, they were!! I am very delighted to share this wonderful recipe with you!

Lemon Almond Biscotti

The Woolverton Inn’s Lemon-Almond Biscotti

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½  teaspoons lemon extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup whole blanched almonds

Pre-heat oven to 350.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend.

Add the flour and almonds and stir until a dough forms.

Turn out onto floured surface and knead a few times; dough will be soft.

Divide in two and roll each into a log about 2 inches in diameter.

Transfer logs to sheet pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.

Carefully cut into 1/2 inch slices with a serrated knife.

Place slices on pan and bake again for another 20 minutes.

These keep nicely in a cookie jar.

Biscotti Dough

Rolled Biscotti Log

Biscotti after first baking

Sliced biscotti

Biscotti after second baking

Watch out for sneaky babies.

A note about blanched almonds…

This recipe calls for 1 cup of whole blanched almonds. Blanched almonds are simply almonds with the skin removed. I searched online and found the same procedure for blanching almonds outlined in several places. Place shelled almonds in a bowl. Pour boiling water over the almonds.  Allow them to sit for a minute. Drain.  Rinse. Pinch the skins off with your fingers. Sounded easy enough. In actuality, it was a much more time-consuming process than I’d anticipated.  On my first attempt, the skins did not slip off at all.  I repeated the process, allowing them to sit in boiling water for another minute.  This time, some of the skins slipped off easily, others came off with a little effort, and some skins remained stubbornly in place.  I am not sure if the freshness of the shelled almonds has anything to do with it. For curiosity’s sake, I’ll probably try blanching almonds again to experiment with freshly shelled almonds and alternate procedures. But, in the mean time, most grocery stores carry blanched almonds slivers, which will work wonderfully for this recipe!

Enjoy!

A Love Letter

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Dearest Lindt Excellence Intense Orange Chocolate,

There are no words to express the way I feel about you. I remember the first time we met, as if it were yesterday. Do you remember? We were in the Clearwater Beach Rite Aid. The date was March 14, 2010. I saw you. You saw me. It was kismet. I brought you home and our love affair began.  Your luscious chunks of candied orange and slivers of crunchy almonds were so irresistible to me. We moved quickly, but feelings like this have no limit on speed. And, so it is. Our pure and simple love, as bittersweet as your chocolatey self. I am a respectable married woman.  It is unseemly for me to be seen consorting with someone other than my betrothed. Alas, my heart belongs to you, darling Lindt Excellence Intense Orange Chocolate. I will shout it from the rooftops.  I love you, Lindt Excellence Intense Orange Chocolate!  I love you.

Until later, my love. Until later.

A Common Obsession

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Hello, my name is Amy and I’m addicted to Chicken Tikka Masala.

There. I’ve said it. It feels good to have gotten that out in the open. Now, we can talk honestly with each other. My husband and I have been eating Chicken Tikka Masala with naan every Sunday night for about two years now. We shutter with anticipation as each Sunday night approaches. When we’re out of town, we promptly locate an Indian restaurant so we can be sure to get our food fix. I ate so much Chicken Tikka Masala during my second pregnancy (including the night I went into labor), that I was surprised my son didn’t come out with a piece of naan in his hands. We should probably look into some sort of support group or therapy.

It all started a couple years ago, when we had an itch to try something different. We scoured the list of restaurants in the area and decided that Indian food sounded good. We selected a few things, all new to us, and called in the order. My husband picked up our food, neatly packaged in small, plastic containers stacked in an unassuming brown paper bag. There was no way of knowing how the contents of that bag would change our lives.

The bag

The contents

We each took a little of everything – a little mixed tandoor grill, a little lamb vindaloo, some raita… Yum, yum, and yum! And, then it happened. We tasted the Chicken Tikka Masala.  Oh, and the naan!  The naan! In an instant rush of food ecstasy, we were hooked. The following week we decided that we would skip the other stuff, pass up an opportunity to try something new, and order two servings of Chicken Tikka Masala with naan. It turned out that two servings could feed us for two nights. So we had leftovers for dinner the next day. A few days later, we went back for more. That’s how it was for the first few months. We ate Chicken Tikka Masala and naan a few times each week. Eventually, we settled on a Sunday night ritual with the occasional extra order here and there. So, you see, we’ve got the situation totally under control! Nothing unusual happening over here…

Chicken Tikka Masala with Aromatic Basmati Rice and Naan

Chicken Tikka Masala is sort of a funny dish.  Basically, it’s composed of chunks of marinated chicken in a creamy, spiced tomato sauce.  Sounds simple enough, but run a search for recipes and you’ll find a long list of completely different recipes, using different ingredients, different spices, and different cooking techniques.  One recipe will call for yogurt, the next calls for cream, still another calls for coconut milk.  The source of spiciness varies too, some recipes using chopped jalapeno while others use ground red chile or cayenne. Some recipes include peppers and onions.  Some even incorporate ground almonds or cashews into the sauce. I’ve tried making it a few times, experimenting with recipes I found online and also concocting my own versions, but I haven’t gotten it quite right yet.  It’s been good, but not what I’m looking for.  I’ve considered calling up the Indian restaurant that we frequent and begging for their recipe.  My kitchen-avoiding husband (who once put a frozen pizza in the oven on its cardboard packaging) even tried  his hand at making naan.  Now, that’s commitment!

There is some dispute regarding the exact origin of Chicken Tikka Masala.  It’s most likely not a traditional Indian dish. Some even consider it to be the true national dish of Britain.  To be honest, we don’t really care where it came from. We’re just happy it came.

There will definitely be more attempts at making Chicken Tikka Masala myself.  I’ll keep trying until I get it right. Until then, we will continue to frequent our favorite Indian restaurant weekly, to keep our cravings in check. I wonder if I can convince my husband to install a tandoor oven in our garage…

P.S.  I’ve got something yummy in store for tomorrow!

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