The Baked Alaska is a dessert that has a tremendous WOW factor. You really only see it in more upscale restaurants, which is why I feel this dessert often gets overlooked. I do not remember the exact moment in time when I was introduced to this impressive confection, but I do remember being wowed. Watching my dessert get lit on fire was so much fun! Ever since then I have been on the lookout for the Baked Alaska on the dessert menu when dining out.
To me the baked alaska is the perfect combination of textures: a fluffy and sweet exterior leading to a cold and creamy interior with a finale of soft cake. The burnt meringue is what makes this dessert for me. I long for the burnt shell on a creme brulee and the crispy burnt crumbs of french fries, which is why I love baked alaska. It is not an easy dessert to master, so I am usually impressed when a restaurant does it right. I know I'm not trying to make my own at home anytime soon! I have a feeling the only thing I'd be lighting on fire is my kitchen. But hey, a girl can dream, right?
Eating baked alaska makes me wonder where it came from, so I decided to do a little research. Benjamin Thompson, an American physicist, claimed to have invented it in 1804 after toying with the heat resistance of beaten egg whites. There is also the story of it being passed on to the French in the mid 19th Century. The actual name "Baked Alaska" originated at Delmonico's restaurant in NYC in 1876 in honor of the newly acquired state of Alaska. It is also said to be popularized in 1895 by chef Jean Giroix at the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo (www.foodreference.com).
I have had the pleasure of eating the baked alaska at Delmonico's, and I must say, it is amazing. Another baked alaska that is off the chain is at Michy's in Miami, Florida. My only hope for this dessert is that smaller places start experimenting with it. I have yet to see it on the menu at a local bakery or restaurant/cafe.
I hope everyone gets to try baked alaska at some point in their lives, because it is certainly an experience.
Who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies? If you don't you are probably not human. The smell of baking cookies is used at open houses to make possible buyers feel at home (words from a Real Estate agent relative). A big bite out of a cookie with a tall glass of milk to wash it down is the picture of comfort. Thoughts of chocolate chip cookies also bring up feelings of happiness from childhood; most children have fond memories of being served cookies at home. I know I do!
One of my fondest memories is my mother teaching me how to make chocolate chip cookies as soon as I was tall enough to reach the kitchen counter. Nothing more than a simple Tollhouse recipe from the back of the chocolate chip bag was needed. My early presence in the family kitchen cultivated an intense love of food, especially baking and desserts.
As I got older I started to experiment with different cookie recipes, zeroing in on perfecting my chocolate chip cookie. I took samples to high school peers and now my family and co-workers test them out. I haven't gotten any complaints yet.
This is the finished product of my most recent chocolate chip cookie adventure. I always have fun with it. It is a rule that I lick the bowl when the cookies are baking in the oven. I used a recipe from The Ghiradelli Chocolate Cookbook which is one among many in my home's stack of cookbooks.
Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar (I prefer dark)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups Ghiradelli Milk Chocolate Chips
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit. Stir the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the butter with the white and brown sugars using an electric mixer at medium speed until the mixture is creamy and lightened in color, about 4 minutes. Add vanilla, eggs one at a time, mixing on low until incorporated. Gradually blend the flour mixture into the creamed mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop by the tablespoonful onto cookie sheets 2 inches apart. Bake 9-11 minutes.
These cookies came out crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, just how I like them. I like to throw in an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract and sometimes a cup of shredded sweetened coconut or even dried cherries. This time I added chopped pecans. I love how the nuts become toasted from the oven and meld in your mouth with the warm chocolate.
I encourage beginning bakers to start with chocolate chip cookies. They are probably the easiest of the desserts to make. Even if they don't come out perfect, you can be happy that you got to eat cookie dough.
If you don't feel like baking, check out my Top 3 Chocolate Chip Cookie spots:
#1 Levain Bakery http://www.levainbakery.com/ in NYC. Their chocolate chip cookies are as heavy as my head. One of these will satisfy your cookie craving for a while.
While my main quest is to locate tasty spots I have recently been trying to find ways to cook healthy food at home, particularly vegetables, that won't make me gag, begging someone to pass the ice cream. Even though I enjoy my pastries and French fries I have always been a health conscious person. Over the past year I started cooking food for myself but found it difficult making everything taste good. Growing up with a self-made chef of a mother should have made me better at this, I thought. I express this to her and she tells me that it takes time to develop cooking skills. My forte is baking, but I hope to slowly become well rounded in the kitchen.
Having adopted a diet that favors natural food as opposed to processed goods including bread and cereal, I am determined to make vegetables tasty. I find "fashionable" diets that completely eliminate food groups or advocate extremely small portions unsustainable. I have tried these diets before and I am only left cranky, hungry, and fatter then when I started. Throughout my short lifetime (21 years) I have found two "diets" possible to sustain: The Zone and The Paleo Diet. Not only do I believe they are sustainable, but I believe the key to their workability is the attitude of making it into a lifestyle rather than something that will require willpower and constant monitoring.
The Zone focuses on certain amounts of fat, protein and carbohydrates depending on your body weight, age, sex and exercise regimen. It allows you to eat mostly anything you want in moderation and control. For more information visit http://www.zonediet.com/.
The Paleo Diet is the diet I have tried my best to follow for the past 1 1/2 years, and have never felt better. It favors a return to the time of cavemen, advocating that we will be in the best of health if we just ate what our hunter gatherer ancestors ate (nuts, berries, lean meat, and leafy greens). For more information go to http://thepaleodiet.com/.
As I'm sure you can already tell I enjoy delicious food and am not willing to sacrifice flavor. The Paleo Diet Cookbook by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. includes great veggie recipes that are simple and tasty. Through experimentation I have learned that you do not need much salt or butter to make everyday food taste good. I have also learned that as a novice cook, like I am, it is best to suck it up and use a recipe. Many times cooking without a recipe, as my mother does, has only left me with a disastrous and/or bland product. Here is my favorite vegetable recipe I have tested thus far.
Cream of Broccoli Soup
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup chicken broth
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
4 tbsp roasted walnuts
Preheat oven to broil. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium flame. Add onion and saute for 5-8 minutes, until translucent. Add broccoli and stir until well coated. Place skillet in oven and broil for 10 minutes. After removing from the oven and letting sit for 5 minutes, covered, combine broccoli and onion with broth and lemon juice. Puree in blender until smooth. Pour into serving bowls and garnish with lemon zest and walnuts.
This recipe calls for home made stock. I just used the low sodium boxed variety. The acid from the lemon juice gave the soup a nice zing and the salt from the chicken stock gave it flavor. Everything blended together created a creamy texture without the cream. For someone who is peeved by using recipes I think I did a pretty good job here. Instead of garnishing with walnuts, which I did not have on hand, I used chives, which gave the soup a nice herby finishing touch.
Flavorful and healthful food is what I reach for on a day to day basis. I try to limit myself to 2 desserts a week. I make them count by staking out fabulous bakeries and eateries that use quality ingredients. I have found my own method of indulging in what I love yet maintaining a healthy lifestyle that I enjoy. No willpower required, just a desire to do it and a little kitchen experimentation.
Do you enjoy testing out healthy recipes? What is your favorite indulgent reward for eating healthy most of the time?
I was overwhelmingly excited when my mother casually mentioned a bakery/restaurant she heard about in one of her food magazines. Living in a house with people who are obsessed with food and checking out new eateries in the NYC area and beyond is a plus. I myself am a self-proclaimed foodie and thanks to my foodie mother, have help in finding out about great places to dig in.
I will explain why I was so excited about Astor Bake Shop. While New York is the city to be if you're into food, the bustling food scene is only starting to make its way to Queens, especially in the way of baked goods. The places I have been to in Queens fall short of fantastic, leaving my palate itching for a Magnolia cupcake.
Let's start from the beginning. I could not resist mulled hot apple cider. It was much needed as it was cold outside. You can tell that this place takes no shortcuts in food preparation, including beverages: everything seems to be made from scratch. When you walk in the smell of sugar and bacon permeates your nostrils. I can't think of anything better paired. An expansive display case is to the left of the restaurant with plenty of tables to the right.
Now, finally on to the baked goods. I came here with two friends, so we decided to share four different items. Red Velvet Cupcake: It was very satisfying. I can honestly say it was the best I've found in Queens, and that says quite a bit. The cake was a little crumbly but with good flavor, and the cream cheese frosting was delicious.
Eggnog cheesecake: This was hands down one of the most unique desserts I have every tried. The graham cracker crust, the white chocolate ganache frosting, and the eggnog cheesecake worked perfectly together. I would come back for this alone. My friend had to coax me into ordering this. It was quite daring in my eyes- I had never even tried eggnog before!
Chocolate cake: The ganache frosting and filling was pretty good but I found the cake bland. No matter, everything else was spectacular.
Carrot cake: It tasted different from other carrot cakes I have tried. There was an ingredient in it that I couldn't quite name. I enjoyed it a lot. The cream cheese frosting was tasty and the golden raisins inside the cake lended a nice bite to the cake.
You can't come here and not pig out. If you are like me and have no willpower, you will end up ordering copious amounts of sweets after scarfing down the Astor Burger with fries. This burger is classic served on a challah bun and "special" sauce which I believe is some sort of spicy mayo concoction that really goes well with the buttery meat. The fries are just the right size; not too fat, not too skinny (I'm particular about my french fries), with just the right amount of grease and salt. The burger is served with a nice helping of leafy greens, which somehow makes you feel better about the whole thing, but we all know deep down inside that salad with your fattening meal will not cancel out the indulgence.
Astor Bake Shop does food and dessert right. It is not often you find a place that excels in both. Before your visit be sure to view the menu and photo gallery on http://astor-bakeshop.com/home.html to get your mouth watering. Oh, and make sure you come on an exmpty stomach!
I can't wait to come back and try the quiche, sanwiches and other sweets!