Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Providence and NYC Trip- Part 1: Providence

First of all, let me say I'm an idiot.  I thought I was "cleaning up" my Picasa web albums (I hate clutter) and deleting all of the old pics that were already on my blog.  Well, since I upload my blog pics from Picasa, I soon found out that if I delete the photos from Picasa, they disappear from my blog.  So, I apologize for all of my pictures disappearing.  It's not a great loss, they were crap anyway.  I have now learned my lesson. 

Now moving on to the fun stuff! 

I recently took a trip to Providence, RI and NYC for a whirlwind week of pre-wedding festivities/shopping/errands.  I think I mentioned that one of my best friends is getting married later this year.  The first half of the trip was to Providence to throw a bridal shower for Gillian.  I flew to Providence on a Thursday.  I left the 75 degree weather in Tampa and landed in freezing rain.  Gah!  I think it was only in the 40's, which I can handle (and even enjoy) but with the rain, it was awful cold.  Thursday was pretty uneventful.  Everyone else was scheduled to arrive on Friday, so G and I spent the day lounging about her (really cool warehouse-like loft) apartment and catching up.  Once David got home from work, we all three braved the cold to get some Greek food for dinner.  I can't remember the name of the place (I'm such a horrible travel-memorizer) but it was just a little college hangout Greek place near Brown University.  I had a gyro and we all shared falafel.  As much as I eat Greek food, this was my first falafel experience, and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The gyro was pretty darn tasty too!

We had dinner at Gillian and David's apartment on Friday.  We had a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (a homemade one was put off by re-routed flights and a surprise trip to pick up Natalie, maid of honor, from Boston), along with mashed sweet potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts.  I'm happy to say I now have a new recipe for brussels sprouts (thanks G!).  More lounging about on Friday night after picking Natalie up from her late flight into Boston. 

Saturday started with a trip to the farmer's market.  I bought some raspberry chocolate jelly for myself and a couple gifts as well.  I sampled all sorts of stuff to my heart's content.  We ate an early lunch in the food-court area of the market (which is indoors in the winter...go figure).  I had a bowl of Portuguese Fish Chowder from a restaurant whose name I also can't remember.  Doh.  But holy cow, it was amazing.  I could've eaten 5 more bowls of it.  Then we all shared a butter and sugar crepe which was TO. DIE. FOR. 

Saturday night, we all braved the cold (windchill was something like 8 degrees!) and walked to dinner at Siena.  We shared appetizers of fried calamari and some sort of fried lobster risotto ball thingies.  I loved that their calamari was all rings and no tentacles.  The tentacles kinda scare me.  And the risotto balls...holy yum.  I can't remember the name of them, and they're not on the menu because they were on special.  Sorry.  I should really take notes (and more pictures) when I go on vacation.  Note taken for next time.  For my entree, I had the Tortellaci con Zucca.  Yeah, no idea what that means.  It's ravioli filled with butternut squash, amaretti crumbs, caramelized onions, provolone, and parmesan cheese.  And then....and then....AND THEN...they pour BROWN BUTTER over the top and add crispy fried sage leaves to the top it all off.  Needless to say, I will be attempting to recreate this at home.  It was so rich, but I ate every bite.  Quite a few of the rest of our party had the Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, which I can also say is extremely tasty.  For dessert, we took home some doughboys to enjoy while watching Tom Brady and the Patriots cream my boyfriend Tim Tebow and the Broncos.  Sigh.  That was sad.  But the doughboys cheered me up.  They're basically huge fried cinnamon sugar donut puff-things.  They come with vanilla ice cream and Nutella for dipping.  Yeah, no further explanation needed. 

Sunday was the bridal shower.  Natalie (MOH), Bailey (G's sis), and I had been planning for a couple of months and were really hoping it would turn out nicely.  We were pleased how it turned out.  Our only complaint was that the room was FREEZING!!!!  We reserved a room CAV Restaurant for a brunch shower.  The restaurant has such fun, eclectic, shabby chic decorations.  I loved the crystal chandeliers and was impressed with the food.  I had the French Toast which was amazing.  Thick and fluffy, with a crispy crust and super-sweet, just how I like it.  The other options were salmon frittata (which I don't think anyone chose) and eggs with toast and bacon.  They also provided a nice fruit platter and unlimited coffee, which we needed since the windchill decided to be NEGATIVE 5 that day and the room wasn't much warmer.  Garsh, we Florida girls were chilly.  For dessert, I made a batch of Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Icing (at G's request) and a batch of the famous Magnolia Bakery Vanilla-Vanilla Cupcakes.  That's my go-to vanilla recipe, but more on that later.  The shower seemed to turn out really nicely and gave G and all the lovely ladies in her family a chance to catch up and congratulate the bride-to-be. 

Sunday afternoon, we took a drive up to Federal Hill to Pastiche BakeryCaserta's to pick up a couple of pizzas.  We got a plain cheese, a spinach pie, and a "bakery pizza" (aka Rhode Island Pizza).  The cheese was pretty good as far as cheese pizzas go.  The spinach pie, however?  Amazing.  It was more in the shape of a calzone and was filled with spinach, cheese, and apparently black olives, but I couldn't taste them.  Which is good.  I hate black olives.  Rhode Island pizza was something new to me.  Gillian and David  had described it to me as pizza with no cheese or toppings, served cold.  So, cold bread with cold tomato sauce?  Yep.  Pretty much.  Sounded sorta gross to me, but once I started eating it, I couldn't stop.  We had picked one up Friday night too, so we snacked on this all weekend.  I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. 

Sunday night, we watched the Golden Globes and gossiped about everyone's dresses and how pretty/ugly/weird everyone looked.  Then we hit the hay early for our whirlwind trip to NYC!!! 

NYC is going in the next post, since I doubt anyone is even reading this anymore.  We packed so much into 2.5 days that it's going to take a ridiculously long post to write about.  

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Snickerdoodle Scones

I love Snickerdoodles.  They're probably my favorite type of cookie.  I know most people choose chocolate chip as their favorite.  And don't get me wrong, I love me a good chocolate chip cookie.  But Snickerdoodles are just perfect for me.  Maybe because my favorite food EVER is a cinnamon roll?  Maybe because my Granny made them for me whenever I went to visit her as a little girl?  I have no idea, but the cinnamon sugar combo gets me every time. 

I've been seeing a LOT of recipes lately for Snickerdoodle-inspired recipes.  Snickerdoodle cupcakes, for example.  Which I need to make ASAP. 

Then I saw this recipe for Snickerdoodle Scones on Annie's Eats and almost died.  I've only recently gotten into scones.  I've made them a few times over the past few months, and I realized how easy they are to make.  They make a great snack or breakfast.  Plus, you can freeze the dough, then pull it out of the freezer and pop into the oven whenever you want!  Perfect! 

Instead of making full-sized scones, I split the dough into two rounds and made mini scones.  I froze one round of dough for when I am craving these again.  I'm trying to watch portions and not eat an entire recipe of a baked good in one sitting, so this was a good idea.  The mini scones were just enough for a few bites of something sweet.  :)  My only comment on these is that I needed to bake these a little bit longer than called for, but all ovens are different, so just make sure they're not still doughy in the middle when you pull them out of the oven! 
Like my Chinese takeout tupperware?  Heh heh heh. 
Snickerdoodle Scones
makes 8 regular-sized scones (or 16 mini-scones)

2 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk or heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the topping:
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 400 F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt.  Stir together with a fork.  Add the cold butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly and the largest butter pieces are the size of peas.
3.  Combine the milk and vanilla in a measuring cup.  Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir together with a fork just until the mixture forms a cohesive dough.  IF necessary, knead the dough a few times by hand to bring the dough together. 
4.  Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and form into a large round (or two) disc about 8-9 inches in diameter.  In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping.  Sprinkle generously over the top of the dough round.
5.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool on the pan, then slice into 8 (or 16) wedges for serving.

****Note:  If you want to freeze some of the dough, divide the dough in two.  Bake one round as instructed above.  Sprinkle the other round with the cinnamon sugar mixture, wrap in plastic wrap, then foil, and then freeze in a Ziploc bag.  When ready to bake, remove from bag and wrappings, place on cookie sheet and bake frozen.  Just add a few minutes to the baking time.****

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Best Blueberry Muffins Ever

I mentioned awhile back that my friend Sherry gave me a bag of frozen blueberries that were hand picked in Michigan.  She froze them a few months ago and gave them to me to bake something yummy.  Well Christmas and Thanksgiving kept me pretty busy with other baking, so I just got around to baking something with these last week. 

I have been bookmarking a TON of recipes with blueberries, knowing I would soon be baking something with them.  But out of all of those recipes, what sounded the best to me was just some good old-fashioned blueberry muffins.  Sometimes less is more, people.

These muffins are super-fantastic because they have a streusel topping on them.  The best blueberry muffins always have that sweet crumbly top, you know?  I have to say (and I'm not tooting my own horn, here) that these were the best blueberry muffins I think I've ever had.  I'm definitely keeping this recipe handy for future reference.  It's a really quick, one-bowl recipe.  The only thing I'll say is that if you're using frozen blueberries in the batter, make sure they're straight out of the freezer and stir them in gently so the batter doesn't get a funny color.  :)  Oh, and the original recipe says it makes 8 muffins.  I definitely got 9 good-sized muffins out of the batter. 
Blueberry Muffins
makes 9 muffins

1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
approx 1/3 cup milk
1 cup (or more) of blueberries

Streusel topping:
1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp flour
2 Tbsp cold butter, cubed
3/4 tsp cinnamon

1.  Preheat oven to 400 F.  Grease 9 muffin tins or line with muffin liners.
2.  Combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.  Place vegetable in a 1 cup measuring cup.  Add the egg and milk to fill the cup.  Mix this into the flour mixture.  Gently fold in blueberries.  Pour into lined muffin cups and fill to the top. 
3.  To make streusel topping, combine ingredients and mix well with a fork until crumbly.  Sprinkle (or heap, as I did) over the tops of the muffins. 
4.  Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes.

Wow.  I take ridiculously awful pictures.  One day I will join the food-blogger ranks and get a good camera.  But for now, I have to use my phone.  Oh well.  They taste a whole lot better than they look. 

I still have a ton of blueberries left, and Sherry also just gave me some crazy mutant lemons from her dad's lemon tree.  So I'll be making a treat with lemons and blueberries this weekend!  I'll post those soon! 

Meanwhile, tonight, I'm going to The Columbia with my buddies from work.  If you've never been to the Columbia, you need to come to Tampa RIGHTNOW and go.  You don't know what you're missing.  They have a few locations in the Tampa Bay area, and I grew up going to the one in Sarasota.  But the one in Tampa is really the best.  It's the original location from 1905, and the mobsters used to eat there!  It's in the coolest historic building and on weekends they do flamenco shows!  Plus, they have the best sangria in the world and the food is to DIE for.  I don't even like mojitos and theirs are the best.  Plus, I'm secretly Cuban.  So I'm in my element. 

P.S. Did anyone watch The Kennedys miniseries?  I've been sitting on my ass since yesterday (with the exception of running earlier) watching it, alternating with episodes of Bones.  I'm a little obsessed.  Kbye.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Just some things.....

1.  I love salted caramel so much that I just dumped salt on my frozen yogurt.  No, really.  I did.  But it was Heath Bar frozen yogurt, and I put caramel sauce on top.  So it's not that weird...right?  Right???

2.  My poor pup has been sick for 3 days with horrible diarrhea.  I read somewhere that pumpkin helps settle dogs' tummies, but that hasn't been working.  It's just been making his poo orange.  So I was told today (on good authority) that he needs to eat this:
(ewww) instead of his beloved doggy nuggets.  BTW, that's plain boiled chicken and brown rice, if you couldn't tell.  It's kind of weird cooking dinner for my dog.  Anyway.  I felt bad for him until he gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow.  Hope it helps his belly.  Or else he's going to the vet.  Which I (and my bank account) dread.

3.  I'm in sort of a foul mood today.  I don't know why.  The worst kinds of foul moods are when you can't figure out why the hell you're in one to begin with.


4.  I say all the time how much I hate Florida and how I want to live somewhere cold.  And then when it gets cold I turn into a big giant wuss and act like I'm freezing to death.  When it's 50 degrees.  However, I'm completely justified in my dramatics today, as it's currently 41 degrees.  And it's supposed to drop another 20 degrees tonight.  I hope it snows! 


5.  I'm going to Providence/NYC in a week and a half and will probably freeze my thin-blooded southern ass off. 

Since it's so flipping cold, I made some of this the other night and luckily still had some leftovers for dinner tonight (and maybe lunch tomorrow!)  

I saw this White Bean Chicken Chili on Annie's Eats the other night and it looked so warm and yummy and comfort-foody.  I made this on New Year's Day.  I HATE black-eyed peas and I thought I needed some good luck for the new year, so do white northern beans count?  I think so.


The original recipe looked pretty healthy, with the exception of sour cream and heavy whipping cream.  I replaced those with fat free sour cream (use Breakstone's, it's still super thick and does not seem like fat free at all!) and fat free half and half.  I also added in mushrooms (love them!) and replaced one can of green chiles with a can of jalapenos.  I like some spice.  I think this would be really good with some corn in it too.  I may try that next time.  This is definitely really super tasty and will warm you up on a chilly night! 
White Bean Chicken Chili
adapted from Annie's Eats 
makes 6 servings

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 package sliced baby bella mushrooms
2 15.5 oz cans Great Northern Beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz can fat free chicken broth
1 4 oz can diced green chiles
1 4 oz can diced jalapenos
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp smoked paprika

1 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup fat free half and half
scallions, smoked paprika, and sour cream for garnish

1.  In large saucepan or dutch oven, saute chicken, onion, mushrooms, and garlic powder in oil until chicken is no longer pink. 
2.  Add beans, broth, chiles, jalapenos and seasonings.  Bring to a boil.
3.  Reduce heat to a simmer and let simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and half and half. 
4.  Garnish with sour cream, smoked paprika, and scallions, if desired.
This, along with my salty ice cream, helped pull me out of my funk a little.  What will maybe help a little more?  Hiding under my covers and watching an episode of Bones.  I'm so jealous of Dr. Brennan. She has all these cool gadgets and tools to ID her bodies.  It's not like that in real life.  We don't have those.  She also has a delicious FBI Agent driving her around all the time, too.  We don't have those, either.  Oh well, a girl can dream.  

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Healthy New Year

Yes, I know this blog is called jilliebeenBAKER.  But I also like to cook.  I don't cook very often (at least anything that is interesting enough to put on here) simply because it's just me and it's hard to cook for just one person.  When I do cook, it's usually something that I can freeze some of the leftovers since I get sick of eating the same thing for a week.  Usually when I get home from work, I'm too tired to do any cooking, so I will either eat a Lean Cuisine (I know, I know, not the healthiest thing in the world but it's quick and easy portion control), make some eggs (LOVE eggs), or pull out some of those leftovers I've frozen. 

Lately I've had the urge to cook more.  Probably because I've come across some great looking recipes.  And since it's the New Year, I thought I would lighten up some of the recipes a bit and see how they turned out.  I actually have been doing this sporadically the past few months, but haven't really posted much on here.  So I decided I'm going to start posting some good dinner recipes too. 

I made this recipe the other night for dinner.  I was checking my Google reader at work (bad, I know...but we were reeeeeallllly slow and I had nothing to do) and this just popped out at me and looked amazing.  Jessica told me to make this for New Year's, but I couldn't wait.  I was actually awake enough after work to go to the store, get the ingredients, and make it for dinner.  Plus it was a Friday night, so I could stay up past my bedtime. :) 

The recipe is already pretty light, but I made a few substitutions to make it just a bit more low-fat.  I replaced the oil in the crust with fat-free greek yogurt (sounds weird, but it is a great substitute!).  I also like spicy foods, so I used a whole jalapeno and a whole onion instead of the 1/2 of each called for.  I replaced the shredded cheeses with fat-free cheese and the gorgonzola with the reduced-fat version.  I know all of this reduced and low fat crap sounds bad, but when fat-free cheese melts you can't tell the difference.  I promise.  But I'll include the link to the original recipe, in case you want to try the full-fat version. 

I also couldn't find whole wheat pastry flour.  It's different than regular whole wheat flour, apparently.  I Googled substitutions and there were many.  I replaced whole wheat pastry flour with 1/2 all purpose flour and 1/2 cake flour with no issues.  I think you could probably just use all purpose flour too.  I've reflected those changes below, as well.

This turned out great, and I think I may use this crust again, but experiment with different toppings.  It came together quickly and oh my, was it good.  I felt like I was eating something really unhealthy.  This didn't last long enough for me to freeze any leftovers. 

Whole Wheat BBQ Shrimp Flatbread
adapted from How Sweet It Is
makes 4-8 servings


1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
olive oil for brushing
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup BBQ sauce
2 oz shredded fat-free cheddar cheese
2 oz shredded fat-free mozzarella cheese
1/2 lb raw deveined and peeled shrimp
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 small red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
2 oz reduced fat Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
cilantro and scallions for topping (I omitted cilantro because I'm not a fan)

1.  Preheat oven to 450.  In a bowl, mix shrimp and paprika.  Set aside. 
2.  In another bowl, combine flours, salt, pepper, and baking powder and mix until combined.  Add water and yogurt, then mix until a dough forms.  You can do this with your hands.  Place dough on a floured surface (or between two pieces of parchment paper) and roll out into a thin rectangle.  Place on non-stick baking sheet and bake 5-7 minutes.
3.  Remove crust from oven and brush lightly with olive oil.  Spread 2-3 Tbsp BBQ sauce on crust, then top with garlic, mozzarella, and cheddar.  Add shrimp, onion, peppers, and top with Gorgonzola and remaining BBQ sauce. 
4.  Bake for 10 minutes, until cheese is bubbly and outside edges of crust are golden.  Remove and let cool for 5 minutes, then top with cilantro and scallions.
This recipe made 8 nice-sized pieces for me.  I ate two at a time and was satisfied.  Delicious!!! :) 

I did some baking yesterday and I have something yummy (and healthy!) bubbling on the stove right now, so I will post those recipes soon!