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Archive for the ‘Tastings & Travels’ Category

Kermit, outside of Kermit's Key West Key Lime Pie Shoppe

While you are all dreaming of pumpkins and pecans, I have key limes on my mind. I just returned from a fantastic trip to the Florida Keys, thanks to two friends of mine who decided to “tie the knot” in this lovely place.  A perfect opportunity to embark on a key lime pie crawl!  And I did just that.

While I didn’t have time to venture too far off the beaten path in some of the more obscure keys (my journey includes mainly Key West, one in Key Largo and one in Marathon), this NY Times article offers a few additional spots to consider.

Everyone claims to have "the original" or "award winning" slice of key lime pie

This trip made me realize that Key Lime Pie is very personal. Everyone has their own idea of what key lime pie should taste like and how much it should cost. While my husband Tom will tell you that he only likes to pay around $4 for his Key Lime Pie, he later conceded that the $9.50 slice might have been the best we tasted. We found that slice prices ranged from $3 – 10.

I was under the impression that Key Lime Pie is traditionally topped with fresh meringue and was surprised to find that so many restaurants in Key West serve it with a few dollops of whipped cream.  This article about the history of Key Lime Pie agrees. In my opinion, they are all great for different reasons.

Whether you prefer a pie tart or mild, creamy or custardy, topped with meringue or whipped cream and finished with a graham cracker or cookie crust, the Florida Keys have something to offer every pie lover. Many of the below companies even ship their pies nationwide!

Key lime pie from Sundowner, Key Largo

My first stop was in Key Largo at Sundowner, a casual seafood restaurant right on the water. After indulging in an all-you-can-eat fried mahi Friday night special, a slice of Key Lime Pie sounded perfect. It was tart with a grainy cookie crust and topped with fresh meringue. The perfect start to vacation.

Key lime pie at Commodore

My next taste was at Commodore restaurant in the historic seaport neighborhood of Key West. This was also the site of Kristie and Mark’s rehearsal dinner. Of course, the grand finale was a rich slice of Key Lime Pie, which I loved. It was distinctly tart, with a fine graham cracker crust, a few dollops of freshly whipped cream and a key lime twist.

Key lime pie from Kermit

Kermit was the inventor of the Key Lime Pie on a stick, which is a slice of key lime pie, dipped in chocolate and frozen. Sounds great. I stuck with tasting a traditional slice from Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Pie Shoppe, which had a great tart taste and nice crust.  Kermit sells nearly everything key lime, from ice cream and cookies to wine and shampoo. It’s a really fun shop to explore.

Key lime pie from Key Lime Pie Co.

Just a few blocks down the road is Key Lime Pie Company, who recently battled Bobby Flay in a Key Lime Pie Throwdown. While Bobby Flay took home the pie crown, this slice certainly has lots to offer, including a super creamy texture that was very different from most slices I tried and a very mild key lime taste. I like to think of this as a great gateway slice.

Key lime pie from Blue Heaven

We had to check out Blue Heaven. This former brothel turned restaurant has become famous for their “mile high” slices of Key Lime Pie. At $9.50 per slice, we weren’t sure what to expect. This turned out to be my favorite slice of the trip – super moist and thick grainy crust, a perfectly balanced key lime flavor and lots of fresh meringue topping. Yum. Beyond their pie, Blue Heaven is a great restaurant and offers live Caribbean music in their outdoor beach area. It’s definitely a place to relax and unwind in Key West.

Key lime pie from Seven Mile Grill

Our last slice of the trip was in Marathon, just north of the famous Seven Mile Bridge at Seven Mile Grill. Oddly enough, we actually went to this small, local outpost for a slice of their Peanut Butter Pie, which received fantastic ratings in a guidebook I referred to throughout the trip. After indulging in some amazing local food that included a chili dog and massive crabcake sandwich, we found out that they were out of peanut butter pie. The server assured us that their Key Lime Pie was not to be missed. It was a tasty ending to a great trip.

Kristie & Mark - the reason I came to Key West

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Maple apple crisp

Fall is my favorite time of year. It’s something about those cool mornings, crisp leaves, festive pumpkins and juicy apples that get me excited about the coming months.

Although I’ve been a bit busy with school baking, I received a request for apple crisp and recently had the opportunity to pick some fabulous upstate NY apples from Lindsey’s Orchard in Clifton Park. And with all of the fancy French desserts I’ve been bringing home from school, a simple, American dessert sounded pretty good to me.

One of my pet peeves about crisp recipes is a lack of crisp, or crumble topping.  I like this recipe because it has the perfect balance of textures. It’s one of the easiest recipes to make, yet looks impressive when topped with freshly whipped cream or your favorite ice cream and maybe a drizzle of caramel or whiskey…yum!

I prefer nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice with apples, but feel free to use spices that you really love.  For instance, ginger, vanilla bean or cardamom would all be fantastic substitutions for this recipe. Pecans and hazelnuts can easily replace the walnuts.

Bon Appetit!

Maple apple crisp

Maple Apple Crisp with Bourbon Cream
Yield: 10-12 servings

Apple filling
6 apples (I used Macintosh. Granny Smith or Cortlands would also work nicely)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Topping
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, cold
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans

Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon bourbon of choice

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9×13 baking dish and set aside.  Peel, core and chop the apples into 1/2 -3/4 inch pieces and place in a large bowl.  Pour lemon juice and maple syrup over apples and toss to combine.

Combine the remaining filling ingredients (flour, sugar and spices) in a small bowl, then sprinkle over apples. Toss to evenly coat the apples. Spread the apples evenly in the prepared baking dish.

To make the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to blend. Cut the cold stick of butter into small cubes and add to food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture forms pea sized lumps. Add the nuts and pulse a few times just to combine.

Sprinkle the topping evenly over the apples.  Bake the crisp for 50-60 minutes, or until topping is a nice golden brown (apple filling should be very bubbly). Remove from oven and cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

Just before serving, make the bourbon cream by whipping the heavy cream in a stand mixer. When the mixture begins to thicken, slowly add the sugar and bourbon. Continue to beat until soft peaks form.

Serve slices of the crisp with a spoonful of cream.

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The Clam Shack, Kennebunkport

I was lucky enough to get a few days away recently and headed 5 hours north to the lovely area of Ogunquit, Maine.  A long, scenic drive through New England with bikes in tow led us to a beautiful bed and breakfast called The Trellis House, where Pat and Jerry offer mouth-watering breakfasts accompanied by friendly conversation and an adorable Bijon Frise, Sophie.

The Candyman in Kennebunkport, ME

Most of my vacation itineraries are determined by food – where and what I plan to eat and when – and Maine is no exception.  From lobster rolls and oysters to clams and ice cream, the small town of Ogunquit is filled to the brim with fantastic food and restaurants.

"Best Lobster Roll in Maine" according to the The Travel Channel, Food Wars

Of course I had to share some of my favorite eats…

Pick-you-own lobster at the Lobster Pound in Ogunquit, ME

One of the trip highlights was definitely dinner at the Lobster Pound in Ogunquit.  As the name implies, you get to choose your own lobster, hard or soft, which is then boiled in fresh sea water, keeping the lobster soft and succulent and giving it a rich flavor.  Add sweet baked beans, a piping hot baked potato and fluffy coleslaw and you’ll need to roll yourself out of there.

Bread + Roses bakery

And now on to the sweet stuff…

Yummy treats at Bread + Roses bakery

One of the best cupcakes I've ever had - chocolate coffee oreo

Sweet Pea's, one of many ice cream parlors

Although I don’t have a picture that shows off the fantastic dishes, MC Perkins Cove is a must-eat destination.  My favorite dishes are the lobster roll, lobster mac n’ cheese, cheesy potatoes and the stellar carrot cake.  I’m drooling now just thinking about those candied carrots and tart cream cheese icing…

Love those early Maine mornings...

So, if you haven’t been to this area of Maine – go!  And let me know when you’re on the way so I can recommend even more places for you to rest your feet and grab a blueberry juice mimosa.

Sophie, guardian of The Trellis House

Oh, and definitely stop by The Trellis House to say hi to Sophie.

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Sprinkles - upper east side

I’ve long anticipated the opening of Sprinkles in NYC. For those of you that don’t know, before Magnolia stole every New Yorker’s Sex and the City heart, Sprinkles had been pumping out cupcakes on the west coast for years.

This L.A.-based cupcakery only sells cupcakes, and lots of them.  It may have taken a long time for Sprinkles to make it to NY (probably something to do with major Food Network stardom via Cupcake Wars), but I’m glad they finally joined the party.

The upper east side shop (directly across from Bloomingdales) seems like the perfect location for these high end sweets, which run on the expensive side ($3.50 each). However, the impeccable service quickly made me forget about price. A delightful server took her time to help me choose eight different cupcakes for a party I was going to and packaged them all very neatly, even writing notes on the box above each flavor to help guests keep track. Despite an insane line, I never felt rushed.

Now on to the cupcakes…

Cupcakes at sprinkles

There are standard cupcakes offered every day and a variety of specialty flavors that change daily. My new friend (AKA the server) told me that Red Velvet is their top seller, followed by the Black & White cupcake. She also recommended her personal favorite, the Strawberry cupcake. Of course I had to try all of them.

Chocolate marshmallow and cinnamon sugar cupcakes

I was excited to try the Lemon Ginger cupcake, but unfortunately that flavor wasn’t available. We did, however, get to try the much anticipated Cinnamon Sugar cupcake and a few other fun flavors, including a Vanilla cupcake with the Yankees logo proudly stamped on it.

Overall, the group thoroughly enjoyed Sprinkles‘ cupcakes. They are moist and flavorful in all the right ways and the frosting-to-cake ratio might actually be perfect.

We also appreciated a few unexpected surprises with certain standard flavors. The Red Velvet cupcake is a very dark red, likely due to the deeper chocolate flavor we detected in the cake. It was refreshing to take a bite and see something other than the bright red cake that’s become so common in NY bakeries.

Red velvet cupcakes

The Chocolate Peanut Butter cupcake, which is my favorite, is  a peanut butter cake with large chocolate chips baked in the batter, topped with a silky milk chocolate frosting.

The Strawberry was not a disappointment either, with fresh ground strawberries baked in the cake, offering a natural, not too sweet flavor.

The Cinnamon Sugar cupcake was not loved by everyone at the party, but I was a supporter. Although, Frost-aholics should know upfront that this cupcake is frosting free.

The Black & White cupcake was a big hit. If you love the combination of chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, this is the cupcake for you. Yumm…

GO THERE! Of the eight flavors I tasted, my top choices are the Black & White, Chocolate Peanut Butter and Strawberry. I can’t wait to go back and try more.

Sprinkles goodies

 

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Lucy's whey, chelsea market

A few weekends ago I explored Chelsea Market and was able to experience the last day of the James Beard Foundation Pop up Shop.  I haven’t been to Chelsea Market in a while and was amazed by how quickly the space can change.

When I arrived I was famished, and with so many options, it was difficult to choose where to spend my lunch calories.  The fresh fish market was tempting, and the sushi looked amazing, but nothing could compare to the local cheese smorgasbord I encountered at Lucy’s Whey.

Three simple, tasty grilled cheese sandwiches were on display.  I chose the Prairie Breeze cheddar sandwich, with local pickles and sea salt butter.  It was the perfect treat.  Pressed hot and flat by an on-site panini grill, my sandwich was oozing cheesey goodness by the time I dug into it while enjoying the view from the Highline.

My lunch

I would definitely recommend a stop at this adorable artisan cheese shop.  In addition to whey, they also have some fun sweet treats, like beer & pretzel caramels.

Sweet treats at lucy's whey

Happy shopping!

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Sassy sweet treats cookies

Nothing’s better than spending a sunny spring day outside.  This weekend, my sister Jocelin and I headed to the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival, a terrific annual event that showcases local artists, music, crafts and food.  After a filling brunch at The Brass Rail, we took to the streets in search of sweet spots.

Jocelina enjoying a cookie

First we found Sassy Sweet Treats, a very cute and friendly table filled with cookies, brownies and the only two remaining chocolate whoopie pies.  They currently only sell their sweets online, however, also participate in many area farmer’s markets (including the Von Vorst Farmer’s Market in Jersey City as of June) and hope to open a store one day.  We took home toffee oatmeal (my favorite!) and dark chocolate chunk cookies.

Next up was a return visit to Sweet, one of very few cupcake shops in Jersey City.  This shop offers approximately 10 different varieties in regular and mini sizes. 

Sweet, in Hoboken

I love the very pretty frosting swirls on these cupcakes (which were unfortunately very disturbed by the time I arrived home with them…do not judge them based only on this photo!).  I tried the fluffer nutter (vanilla cake topped with peanut butter frosting and fluff), a basic vanilla cupcake (vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream) and a chocolate peanut butter cupcake (chocolate cake with peanut butter icing).  The peanut butter icing was definitely the favorite (I know, not very surprising for us peanut butter lovers!).

Three mini cupcakes from sweet

Along our way we also spotted a new German Bakery on Washington Blvd.  Neither of us are big fans of the name, but their doughnuts did look pretty tasty.  I’ll have to take a trip their next…

Old German bakery

 Just another day scoping out the sweet scene!
 

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Tin of treasure

As many of you know, my sister Jocelin was recently in Paris for several weeks as part of her Global Fashion Management program at FIT.  Lucky for me, she returned home last night toting plenty of Parisian sweet treats for me to enjoy.

Paris cookies

The largest package was a beautiful tin of cookies from La Cure Groumande.  This fun artisan sweet shop is sort of like the Willa Wonka Factory of France.  The shop is filled with chocolate, caramels, lollies, bon bons and their famous cookies.

almond cookie

I’ve already devoured several cookies (with the eager assistance of my husband Tom), and look forward to finishing up the rest in the coming days when they are at their freshest.  So far the orange cookie (not pictured here) was my favorite.

cookie

My friend Mary visited Jocelin in Paris and embarked on a lengthy macaron crawl with my brother-in-law Eddie.  Check out her blog, The Culinary Librarian, to read about their adventures visiting nearly every patisserie in Paris.

cookie

I’m also very excited to taste my new white rose petal tea, and French fan tea spoon.

tea and things

Merci beaucoup Jocelina!

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