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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tiki Party!

When you can't beat the heat... embrace it!

[Pierre and Rocko enjoying the festivities]

It has been so hot lately and this weekend instead of camping out in the AC, Kelly and I decided to embrace the heat as part of our ambience for a retro Tiki party. We were even lucky enough to have some breeze blowing throughout the night for more of a "trade wind" feel. The party was really a farewell party for Sue and John, they are moving out to Colorado.



We made a trip to the Party Source for supplies (such a guilty pleasure of mine... it's so cheezy but yet so fantastic). We got ingredients for mai tai's and pina colada's and were excited to try our bartending skills. I also bought a whole pineapple and it was so much more fun than old pre-cut slices from the store.

[Here I am enjoying a Mai Tai and trying to cool down]

We didn't really want to spend much on decorations so we had to be creative. As you can see in the background I had my "aquarium" playing. This is part of my fireplace dvd that can play 2 different fireplace/campfire loops. I knew the aquarium setting would come in handy one day! And of course - the very fancy plastic flamigo.



[Pina Coladas made from scratch]

Pina Colada's made from scratch are very easy and only includes 3 ingredients. I don't know why you would every waste your time buying a pre-made mix.

Classic Pina Colada Recipe (makes 2-3 servings)
- Rum 3oz (dark or light will work really so choose what you like!)
- Pineapple juice 3oz

- Coco Lopez 4oz (coconut cream could be used as a substitue if you can't find this)
- add in a whole bunch of ice (a bit more than equal parts) and blend until frothy. I garnished with Maraschino cherries and a fresh pineapple slice and of course an umbrella.

[Kelly looking lovely and sippin' on a cool treat]



[Mai Tai - recipe from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel]
I wanted to make a traditional mai tai and found a great recipe from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. This was one of the first hotels on Waikiki beach (est. 1927) and is famous for being bright pink! They even have "Pink Packages" that include a pink limo, pink champagne, and a pink room. It's very striking along the stretch of the beach.

A little history about the mai tai: It was created in 1944 by Trader Vic in California. He wanted to keep it a secret so the other bars were just guessing at ingredients. Because of this, there are a lot of variations. The Royal Hawaiian recipe is much like Trader Vic's but substitutes simple bar syrup instead of rock candy syrup. I omitted it all together as that only adds sweetness and I prefer less sweet.
Royal Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe:
- 1 oz light Run
- 1 oz orange Curacao
- 1/2 oz lime juice
- Dash Orgeat
- mix all above ingredients in a tumbler with ice and pour back into glass (with ice)
- top with dark rum

- I garnished with Maraschino cherries and a pineapple slice on an umbrella

[I found this shirt for 2 dollars at our local Good Will, and a Kukui nut lei from HI]

[Our guests of honor!]

Friday, July 23, 2010

Butternut Squash Bread

Brent's parent's left us with A LOT of butternut squash from their garden. This is such a yummy veggie but you don't really hear too much about it. I decided that if you can make zucchini or pumpkin bread, you can also make Butternut Squash bread....







First I made a butternut squash puree which involved cooking the squash, scraping out the pulp, and blending in a food processor.


Included in the dry ingredients are a whole bunch of yummy spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger). I always sift at least three times when the recipe focuses on spices, I find it really distributes the flavors evenly.






I found the recipe here. Apparently you can substitute pumpkin for the squash as well! You can use any nut you want (or not any) but I opted for walnut.





It turned out very delicious and not dry at all - I can't wait to try this with pumpkin. I'm very excited for the fall and all the pumpkin flavored goodies. Most likely I'll omit the nuts for the pumpkin bread.
What are you excited about for the autumn season?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

coffee cakes and quiche

[Nothing like getting to enjoy the morning for once!]

Brent's parents brought down a bunch of fresh veggies from their garden and we have been trying to use them in everything. This quiche contained korabi, butternut squash, and onions - all from the garden!


Instead of using my regular pie crust recipe, I found a french quiche crust recipe and it seems to work quite well. It requires you to add an egg at one point and a little bit of sour cream.

It turned out well! I would like to start experimenting more with quiche - they're so much fun to make and delicious to eat.



I also made a traditional coffee cake for the weekend so that we could have something to snack on. I love the way this turned out! The cinnamon, sugar, and flour on the top really made it scrumptious.



Aerial view

I find that for cakes/breads with a lot of spices that it's best to sift the ingredients about 3 times to make sure everything is evenly distributed (most recipes say to just sift together once).




This is the cook book that really taught me how to bake. It was published in 1934 and teaches you to do everything by hand (ex: "cream butter thoroughly"). I really enjoy the recipes because they are surprisingly healthy compared to today's recipes. I mean this both in quantity of ingredients and also in portion size. Generally the recipes call for much less butter and sugar and the actual portion is smaller as well. A lot of the recipes might not be for everyone's modern tastes. One example are the graham muffins, they are somewhat dense and hard and are meant to be served with jam or butter and some people might not care for them nowadays. I love these now but it did take me a bit to get used to the idea.


Here is the layout featuring the "Quick Coffee Cake" recipe I used above.
















Wineries and B&B Riverboat cruise



Brent's parents were in town this past weekend and we had such a blast! We spent saturday morning sampling all sorts of wines. The Henke Winery is actually a full restaurant with really scrumptious food! We all did the $5.00 tasting where you are served 6 selected wines but I think we ended up trying 11 or 12 by the end of the afternoon (I may have lost track...). We weren't hungry enough for a full meal but we did have the "awesome pan seared cheddar" (vermont white cheddar, breaded and pan seared atop a red wine and berry sauce, served with flatbread). It was wonderful - who would have thought those flavors would go together so nicely? - Vermont White Cheddar,
Breaded and pan seared, atop a Red Wine and Berry Sauce
served with flat bread

We then made our way to Burnet Ridge winery. Good wines! This local Cincinnati wine maker has been in the business for 35 years and knows his grapes. A personal favorite of mine was the Purple Trillium, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. I love red blends and this one is fantastic. Petit Verdot is a hard wine to drink on it's own (think squid ink) but when blended, adds such a rich component.

[Brent's dad, Kelly, me, and Stasha admiring the view]

After the wineries, we boarded the B&B Riverboat for a relaxing tour of Cincinnati in the evening. The weather finally cooled down and we all enjoyed the turn of the century-styled boat ride.


[Brent and me]






Viva la poncho!

Whew - what a project this was! I made this poncho as a wedding present for my dear friend Suzie. We were looking through patterns together and she fell in love with this design so I decided to knit it in secret (which was VERY challenging) and surprise her.

The pattern itself wasn't all that complicated, it required 2 different sizes of needles in the round and alternating colors (somewhat reminded me of Intarsia or fair isle knitting). The yarn I picked was extremely fancy (a blend of mohair) but it was SO THIN! It created a lovely look and lays nicely but it took me forever to knit especially near the end.

Anyhow, I'm very happy with the way it turned out and Suzie says it fits perfectly and will be great for her move out to Colorado (I'll miss you Sue!).

Well I can't mention the wedding gift without a mention of her wedding which was absolutely a blast! She couldn't have picked a better day - it was about 75-80 and sunny. She put it all together her self and even made her own wedding cake!

The toppers were old salt and pepper shakers that she already had. Very perfect that they are chihuahua's because she's got a little one of her own.

Can you believe this cake?!? It was absolutely gorgeous and tasted delicious too. Each tier was a different flavor: mocha spice cake, key lime cake, raspberry cream cheese, and coffee cake.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The (not so) Secret Garden

My parents, Brent, and I sitting in the shade.

Though I haven't always been the best at keeping potted flowers alive, I have been having so much fun with our garden plot. Clifton Community Garden began just a few months ago and I was excited to snatch up a coveted spot with my sister. This was all the brain-child of two of my good friends from my Americorps year and I'm so impressed with how well it is going. Sitting on the corner of Dixmyth and MLK, this garden is very public and has had such a wonderful response from the neighborhood.



This is my plot (8x4). By no means is it the most impressive but I think it's doing pretty well (this picture was taken pretty early on).
We have:
- 2 Roma tomato plants
- 1 jalapeno plant
- 3 eggplants (which are doing So well!)
- 3 brussel sprouts
- 3 sweet peppers
- 3 bell peppers
- carrots
- onions


The location is great - lots of direct sunlight. Also, coca-cola has donated 2 huge rain barrels to collect water and so far we haven't needed any extra.

My next assignment: Lois Lane Lindsay (ok maybe not quite...)
I am writing an article about the garden for some local papers!





Monday, July 12, 2010

mmm..... pies

Who doesn't love pie? I have been baking A LOT lately and these are two of my favorites so far. The one above is a banana cream pie that I made for father's day when my dad was in town. This recipe is great because the custard would be delicious on its own. However, the really spectacular part about this pie is the layer of dulce de leche (sort of like a spreadable caramel). My family and I devoured this pie - it was nice a refreshing treat on a hot summer night.

This was an apple pie that I made for my boyfriend's birthday... turned out delicious but I should have partially baked the bottom crust (the recipe specifically said not to for some reason). What I really liked about this is the simplicity in ingredients: butter, flour, pinch of salt for the crust and apples, sugar, and cinnamon for the filling. Yum!

So what's next on the menu? I am planning on trying my hand at an old fashioned coffee cake and some orange tea cakes from a cook book i picked up in New Mexico when visiting my parents. We have Brent's parents coming up for the weekend and a possible barbeque on Friday so I'm sure there will be lots of good eats coming my way!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A weekend "getaway"


This weekend, my fantastic boyfriend surprised me with a weekend "getaway" to downtown. He booked us a room at the Westin with a view overlooking Fountain Square. Our Saturday was wonderful, starting with lunch at Hamburger Mary's (they have great vegetarian options as well). we then headed to our fancy room and soaked in the AC and cable for a while before heading up to the pool/workout area.

Before dinner we got cocktails at the Palm Court in the Hilton. This is attached to Orchids restaurant where I've always wanted to eat... however it's a little too pricey for our tastes. We still got to experience the amazing atmosphere at the Palm Court as we sipped our drinks while listening to the pianist playing Moon River and other classics. For dinner we walked down to JeanRo Bistro, an adorable french bistro. I had one of the best meals of my life, the seared tuna a la nicoise followed by the chocolate pot de creme. YUM. We washed the whole thing down with a bottle of local wine.

While we were never more than 15 minutes away from our apartment, this getaway truly did feel like a vacation. This is a great idea for anyone looking for a quick break from life without having to even take a day off from work. It was also nice to rediscover downtown Cincinnati which really is a wonderful town.

We got to sleep in on Sunday and then had brunch at the Greenup Cafe and I was still feeling full from last night's dinner! I opted for a cafe au lait, the honey and vanilla yogurt with watermelon and blueberries, and a buttermilk biscuit. Delicious as always. Then we hit Findlay market where we got our week's worth of produce (and awesome locally made dog food for Pierre!). We also realized it was Second Sundays on Main street so we looked around in the heat. No finds today but fun all the same. One new place we found on Main is called Neon's beer garden. We just stopped by to look around but it was a little bit Tiki themed which made me want to come back when in need of a drink!

Well, it's back to work tomorrow morning but at least I feel refreshed! Lots to do this week and Brent's parents will be coming into town on Saturday so I'm sure I'll be frantically cooking and cleaning on Friday!