Friday, April 30, 2010

Big Big Breakfast

My husband does regional travel for work and occasionally I take a vacation day and join him on the road.  This Wednesday we found ourselves in North Jersey at a not-so-fabulous Holiday Inn where the only dining option on site was this place...

Harold's is a New York-style deli where everything is huge.  We're talking 40 oz. milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches made with a pound of cheese and a loaf of bread.  Why?  I don't know.

I wanted to enjoy a quick, casual breakfast with my husband before he headed out to work (and I headed back to the hotel room to sleep all morning), so we decided to share three pancakes and a side of bacon.

Actually, we started to order three pancakes, but our server suggested that one would be plenty.  About 25 minutes later, this shows up at our table:

Yes, that is a pizza-sized pancake and a pound of fried bacon.  No, we didn't eat it all.  We cut the pancake like a pizza and ate some, then we packed up the bacon to take home as doggy treats for Milo and Zelda. 

I think we've found the cause of the obsesity epidemic. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rum Raisin Bread Pudding

Mmmm... bread pudding.  It makes our home smell like the holidays.  Of course, it's almost Mother's Day and not exactly "the holidays", but since it was raining and I had a half loaf of french bread left over from or spaghetti and meatballs Sunday dinner, I figured I'd make good use of the leftover crusty bread. 

I've always liked bread pudding.  I'm pretty sure that I had it for the first time at my grandparent's home way back in the day.  It's a lovely, inexpensive, and easy dessert that in many ways reminds me of French toast.  If you don't like raisins, you can absolutely substitute another dried or fresh fruit (or even chocolate) and get great results.  I love to serve it with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Oh, and it absolutely must be served warm.

You'll find bread pudding in a lot of "down home" restaurants, but sometimes it's too gelatinous, too mushy, or too sweet.  I like mine buttery and crunchy around the edges with a soft interior.  So far, this recipe from The Neely's is my favorite.  There are only two people in my home, so we usually cut the recipe in half and bake it in a 1 quart oval baker.  These little lovelies come in handy for those of us who are single or married without kids:

So, let's say you enjoyed some crusty bread with dinner, but you still have half the loaf left...

Put some milk, cinnamon, butter, rum, cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar in a saucepan on the stove and heat it until it simmers lightly and the sugar is dissolved.

It doesn't look pretty, but it smells great.  Dice the bread up and toss it in the hot milk mixture.

Let it soak for about 30 minutes.  Don't stir it.  You don't want to break up the crusty bread chunks.  Just go find something else to do.  Or get your baking dish ready and your oven preheated.

After 30 minutes have passed, your bread will soak up the milk like a sponge.  This is when you gently fold in the beaten eggs.

Pour the whole thing into a prepared baking pan and pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes.  When it's finished you'll have this:

Your home will smell like Christmas and Thanksgiving.  You'll be happy.  Everyone will be happy.  You'll serve yourself a helping with some whipped cream or ice cream or both. 

The best part?  It's the perfect recession dessert (it's affordable and most casual bakers have all the ingredients in the pantry) and it's a great use of leftovers.  Sounds like a winner to me!

Rum Raisin Bread Pudding
from Down Home with the Neelys

3 cups milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons rum
1/2 cup raisins
7 (1/2-inch) slices brioche bread, cubed or torn
4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large saucepan, add milk, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, brown sugar, rum and raisins and heat until warm. Simmer and stir until sugar dissolves.

Into a large bowl add the cubed bread and pour in the hot milk mixture. Let sit for 30 minutes so the bread absorbs the milk.

Add the beaten eggs to the bread and milk mixture and stir. Pour bread pudding into a buttered 1 1/2-quart baking dish and bake for 50 minutes.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


If you're a wine enthusiast, here's something new to add to your repertoire:  Port.  This wine traditionally comes from Portugal and is normally red with a sweet or semi-sweet taste.  It has a higher alcohol content than most other wines (18 to 22 percent) and is fortified with a brandy-type liquor.  It's a nice after dinner treat, especially when served with dark fruits (think dried cherries) and dark chocolate.  Since it's fortified with liquor, it has a longer shelf life than most wines (weeks, not days), which is great because this wine should be enjoyed in small quantities (about 2 to 4 ounces per serving) due to its strong taste and high alcohol content.

I was introduced to Port at a wine tasting a few months ago.  Since then, I've identified two affordable brands (less than $15) that can introduce you to the wonderful world of Port.  One bottle will yield many servings, so it can also be a great deal in these tough economic times.

Osborne Ruby Port was the first Port I tasted.  It's a beautiful dark red (almost burgundy) and the flavor reminds me of ripe sweet cherries.  It's sweet, but not to the point that it overshadows your dessert.  I've enjoyed this wine with a square of dark chocolate and I think it makes a great dessert and is the perfect ending to a nice meal.

I received a bottle of Fonseca as a birthday present this year.  Fonseca reminds me of raisins and spicy dark fruit.  It's also great with chocolate and dried fruits.

I'm still learning about Port. There are other varieties:  white, tawny, semi-sweet.  There are also varieties that come from countries other than Portugal.  And, of course, there are varieties with vintages that have been aged for a long time and cost more money.

I'm just a beginner, so I'm encouraging those of you who enjoy wine to consider serving yourself a (small) glass of Port with dessert.  There are even special smaller wine glasses for Port.  (Note to self:  I need one.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Kentucky Cuisine

Earlier this month I had the exciting opportunity to visit Louisville, Kentucky for a professional conference.  I spent most of my time in the hotel and at conference sessions, but this blog isn't about work, it's about food and fun, so I figured I'd share the delicious (and silly) highlights.

I must say that I knew nothing about Kentucky outside of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Kentucky Derby Pie prior to my visit.  However, I must say that Louisville is very proud of its famous natives, particularly: Colonel Sanders and Muhammad Ali.   This place wasn't all horse racing and fried chicken!

When I got off the plane I told my colleagues that I had to have two culinary experiences during my trip:  Kentucky Derby Pie and a Kentucky Hot Brown.  Guess what?  I found and enjoyed both!

I also had the best cheese grits I've ever tasted at the Maker's Mark Lounge.  Actually, I ate grits every day in Kentucky.  I was in such a grits mood that I made cheese grits with dinner when I got back to Delaware, but I digress...

At Maker's Mark I enjoyed pork tenderloin with a peach sauce and balsamic reduction accompanied by collard greens and sweet potato hash:

And since I could decide between this dish and shrimp and grits, I requested a side of cheese grits.  It was so worth it!

The decor in Maker's Mark was pretty cool.  Obviously bourbon was a big theme...

I don't even know if I like bourbon, but it showed up in a few of my sauces, drinks, and desserts during the trip and it was fine.  I'll have to do more research on that one.

I ended up getting my Kentucky Derby Pie in Indiana.  Yes, as in the state of Indiana.  Louisville is right across the Ohio River from Indiana (and I've never been to Indiana), so we took a cab across the river to get a slice of pie.  Random?  Yes.  Fun?  Yes.

Kentucky Derby Pie reminds me of a huge chocolate chip cookie baked into a pie crust.  It has nuts and chocolate and that soft chewy center that you'd expect in a fresh baked cookie.  I've always had it topped with fresh whipped cream and/or ice cream.  Good eats.

I'll admit that I've had Kentucky Derby Pie at Fager's Island in Ocean City, Maryland.  I'll also admit that Fager's Island had a better pie (homemade rather than previously frozen).  But who cares, I got to go to Indiana!  I'll be attempting to bake a Kentucky Derby Pie at home, so stay tuned.

 I also had the opportunity to walk around town for a few minutes.  I had to work off all that food!

I saw the Muhammad Ali Center (which promptly closed as soon as we got there)!  It seems everything closes early in Kentucky.

A random colorful building...

I even visited the gift shop at the Louisville Slugger Factory and purchased an Oriole's mini-bat for my hubby...

I was only in town for two days and I was content at lunchtime on my last day.  I hadn't tried a Kentucky Hot Brown (I only knew about this sandwich because it was recently featured on Throwdown with Bobby Flay), but I knew I had a great time.

Our little group had some open time for lunch and we passed a random cafe.  We were in a hurry, so we went in to grab a quick meal.  Guess what they had?

French bread covered with sliced turkey topped with a creamy, cheesy sauce and fresh tomatoes... baked in the oven and topped with... bacon!  A Kentucky Hot Brown!  Not only did I immediately order one, but I pulled out my Blackberry and learned that the hotel that invented the Kentucky Hot Brown was right down the street.  Needless to say, this was a great sandwich that kept me full for the rest of the day, including flying to New York en route to Philadelphia and then arriving home at 11:30 pm.  It was that filling.  And no, I don't ever need to eat one again.  It was one of those things I had to experience, but I know it had way too many calories. 

It doesn't even look like a sandwich, right?

Anyway, Kentucky had surprisingly good food.  It was semi-southern, but it also had it's own flavor.  I didn't know what to expect and I was pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Birthday Celebration

Last Friday (Good Friday) was a fantastic day for me.  I turned 30!

I enjoyed a long weekend full of celebrations with coworkers, family, and friends.  On Thursday, my very generous coworkers decorated my office and decorated me with a tiara, necklace, and ribbon with a "30" theme.  They also ordered a birthday cake that we promptly sliced and ate at breakfast time!  Even though I was really busy in the office on Thursday, the birthday celebration really kicked off a great long weekend.  As an added bonus the weather was sunny and near 80 for the entire long holiday weekend.  It's much appreciated after the rough winter we had this year.

My birthday fell on Good Friday, so I ended up getting a day off work.  I started my day with a manicure and pedicure.  I enjoyed dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with my mom, husband, and aunt.  Everything was perfect.

Believe it or not, there was even more fun to come.  My husband took me to the Philadelphia Zoo on Saturday.  If you didn't know, I love animals (shout out to my pups, Milo and Zelda) and I haven't been to the zoo since elementary school.  It made my day to walk around in the unseasonably warm weather watching the otters play in the water, the mama orangutan with her baby, and the crocodiles chilling in their tank.  But that's not where the fun ended.  When we got back in town, my husband drove to my mother's home where there was a surprise party waiting for me, complete with a huge spread of food fit for an Easter dinner!

Needless to say, I had way too much fun.

Oh, and I'm not one of those women who is ashamed of her age.  I'm 30 and loving it.  The 20's were fun, but I'm looking forward to this new decade.

Here are some highlights from my extra special birthday/Easter weekend...

Enjoying a Mai Tai with mom

Celebrating with a royal gift (I haven't even seen this movie yet!)

 Chocolate Tuxedo Cheesecake = yum!

Getting wild and crazy at the zoo

The surprise party spread

My second birthday cake of the weekend... filled with fresh strawberries and creme and topped with whipped icing... my absolute favorite!

The lovely white gold necklace with the diamond heart pendant that I'm sporting in these photos was a gift from my husband.  I don't own much "real" jewelry (I normally wear costume), but he wanted to give me something special to remember this birthday.  I like it.

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