Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Peppermint (and Cocoa) Meringue Kisses, and Giveaway Winner!

Did everyone have a lovely holiday?  I hope so, and I also hope that many of you are still enjoying a relaxing vacation before heading back to work!  My Christmas with family and friends was everything I hoped it would be and was surprisingly stress-free...with the exception of my flight to Norway.  

The east coast winter storm basically closed most airports and left thousands stranded after the holidays; though my travels were interrupted, I count myself lucky that my delay meant more time with family and not more time sleeping on the floor of Newark Airport.  I finally arrived in Oslo today after having TWO cancelled flights on Sunday and Monday this week (if you follow me on twitter you heard all about it!) and this Norwegian Cilantropist is looking forward to a week and a half of bliss.      

So for today, I am going to tell you about the peppermint meringue kisses that I made before the holidays.  I know that Christmas is officially over, but as a good friend reassured me, peppermint flavors can be enjoyed throughout winter and should not be limited to the holidays.

The recipe comes from Desserts 4 Today by Abigail Dodge; earlier this year, I was the lucky winner of a copy of Desserts 4 Today through a giveaway on VinoLuci's site.  This book has loads of fabulous recipes that all use only four ingredients.  (Get it, Desserts "4" Today?)  Oh yes, you heard me right.  You can whip up a quick and easy dessert with four things that you already have in your pantry, or can easily pick up from your local grocer.      

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook and Cookie Giveaway, and Tate's Cappuccino Shortbread

Guess what I have for you today??  A giveaway that includes not only delicious cookies to feed you for a day, but a great cookbook that you can use to bake your own cookies all year!  

The kind folks over at Tate's Bake Shop in the Hamptons, NY contacted me and asked if I would like to try out their cookies and receive a copy of their Bake Shop Cookbook plus a copy of the cookbook and a cookie gift pack for one of my lucky readers.  Of course I was interested!  I had heard of Tate's in passing, but never had the pleasure to try out their famous cookies.  Tate's Bake Shop features cakes, pies, crumbles, and of course their famous chocolate chip cookies, all of which are baked from the best natural ingredients.  Their baked goods have received numerous accolades such as Best Hamptons Bakery in 2010, and have been featured in major national publications 

In a 50-brand taste test, Tate's chocolate chip cookie was voted #1! 

From chocolate chip, to oatmeal raisin and white chocolate macadamia nut, all Tate's cookies are the thin-and-crispy variety.  If you have ever made Thomas Keller's chocolate chip cookies, they remind me of those, although Tate's recipe seems more simple and easy.  I would be remiss if I didn't fess up and tell you that I usually prefer a thick-and-chewy chocolate chip cookie (much like the Jacques Torres recipe) but Tate's cookies still proved irresistible for me.  

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Created by Diane's Iced Italian Cookies!

Christmas Cookies,cookie,iced cookie

Are you on holiday vacation time yet??!  Well, if you aren't free from the ball and chain of work yet, I hope I won't make you too jealous when I tell you I will be off of work for a full two and a half weeks!  YAY!  I just arrived in Ohio this morning, and after a week and change here, I will head to Norway for another week.  I am fully ready for last minute Christmas festivities, catching up with family, and quality time with my honey.  Even in vacation mode I will still be updating with new posts over the next two weeks so be sure to keep up!  

To kick off the holiday vacation season, I am excited to share a guest post from Diane of Created by Diane.  I met her earlier this year, and I immediately liked her friendly personality and infectious smile.  I was also extremely impressed by the simple perfection of her Italian Iced Cookies: they are delicious and they look beautiful.  (I was lucky enough to get one of her signature red hearts that is the trademark of her blog!)  Come Christmastime, I knew I wanted to feature her fantastic recipe, but I also wanted to learn the techniques she uses to decorate her cookies.  What better way than to share a guest post so you can learn her techniques as well!  I hope you enjoy, and be sure to swing by her blog and check out the rest of her great recipes and other Christmas treats like snowflake cookies and Christmas tree Santas.      


I want to thank Amanda for letting me share my love of cookies with you today!
I'm Diane and I blog at Created by Diane.

Cookies are especially nice at Christmas time, but these cookies can be adapted to meet any occasion. This is my favorite cookie recipe. I bake an Italian Cookie, the type you'd find in an Italian bakery. They aren't as sweet as sugar cookies and rise up nicely, hold their shape and have a cake like quality to them that is irresistible. They have a lovely vanilla taste with a sweet icing on top.


Follow the recipe to bake the cookies, and then these directions for icing:

To start decorating, begin with a cooled cookie and prepare icing according to the recipe. Place icing in a piping bag with a #2 tip for outlining your design.


Outline your cookie. Leave just a little cookie showing so the icing won't fall off the edge when you fill it.  When you do this, hold the tip slightly off the surface of the cookie and just let the icing fall down onto the cookie for a smooth line. Don't stretch the icing.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My Grandma's Spritz Cookies, or Spritzgebackenes

These are my favorite Christmas cookies.  A pretty bold statement, huh?  Especially for something so humble as the simple spritz cookie.  But to understand why these cookies are my favorite, I need to tell you about my grandma.  Actually she is my Omi.  (And for those Germans out there, I know very well that grandma in German is Oma, with an -a.  I don't care.  I have called her Omi since I was a child and I am not about to change now.)

At Christmas time, Omi is a cookie-baking, linzertorte-making machine.  

Now that she is older, my Aunt also helps her out with the baking, and between the two of them they churn out hundreds and hundreds of these bite-sized cookies every year.  You see, ever since I can remember, there has been a wicker basket at my grandma's house.  It is about 3 feet high, maybe 1 1/2 feet in diameter, round, and it has a lid.  It sort of reminds me of a medium-sized laundry hamper.  Now, imagine how big this wicker basket/hamper is in comparison to a tiny spritz cookie.  Stretch your imagination a bit more, and imagine this 3 foot tall basket filled with spritz cookies.  No, there was no typo that sentence, my Omi does in fact make enough spritz cookies to fill the wicker basket each year.  She is amazing and I love her for it. Especially since I might single-handedly consume a large portion of those cookies myself.             

For me, her Spritzgebackenes is a sort of 'old-world' Christmas treat, because it doesn't have any bells and whistles, or any fancy ingredients we Americans like to use to gutsy up our cookies.  The recipe lists ingredients in grams, because this is Omi's German recipe, and every good European knows measuring baking ingredients in volumes is rubbish.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Celebration of Food and Friends, and Chocolate Cranberry Layer Cake

Did you hear the news?  Well, if you are late to the party (and I don't mean the actual party where we had this amazing cake), then I can let you know right away that I am officially out of Project Food Blog.  Yes, after more than three months of hard work and nine rounds of competition, my run has come to an end.  I would be flat out lying if I said I wasn't disappointed (there was $10,000 and title of food blog star at stake!), and when I heard the news on Friday, I did get a little emotional.  But, here's the thing: I surprised even myself when I realized I wasn't feeling sad about actually being eliminated.  There were no tears, I didn't have a breakdown, and I didn't feel like life was falling apart.**  And here is why: I am still a winnerParticipating in this contest has brought only good things to both my life and this blog.  I thought to myself, "Ok, well, I am just going to go back to what I was doing before.  Only better."   

And then almost immediately, my phone started ringing, my email inbox filled up, and messages came flooding through on Twitter; new blogger friends, loyal readers, and real-life family and friends from near and far were all contacting me to share their feelings with me, to tell me that they were proud of me, or just to let me know that they care and still think this blog is awesome.  And that was when I started feeling a sort of aching in my chest that was just overwhelming.  It was as if the huge support I had received throughout this process was all being distilled into one perfect crystalline moment.  I knew I had given it my all, I had put my heart into each and every moment of this contest, and I hadn't let anyone down; all the way through to the end, YOU, my loyal readers and friends have supported and encouraged me every step of the way.  There really are not sufficient words to tell you just how much that means to me, so I will just offer you a simple and giant 

THANK YOU!      

I started out in the contest thinking that if I made it to the second round, it would be amazing (not kidding, I really said this to all of my friends) and then somehow I managed to find myself in the ninth round with only 11 other phenomenal bloggers left.  (I still sometimes find this unbelievable.)  At that point, I took a good hard look at my blog, and realized that it had undergone an incredible transformation into almost exactly what I had hoped it would be when I started it earlier this year: a place for friends to gather and share in the beauty and goodness of great food and great people.  Because Project Food Blog not only challenged me to grow and make The Cilantropist a better place, but it also brought together a like-minded community of people who support each other and revel in deliciousness.  I got to meet and be inspired by so many talented bloggers, and most importantly for me, I got to experience everything with constant encouragement from family and friends.

So, at the end of the day, even though I lost the competition, I think I have more than enough reasons to celebrate. I especially wanted to show those nearest and dearest to me how much I appreciated all their help... and so naturally I showered them with food.         

Sunday, December 5, 2010

HOMIs meet MIHO Gastrotruck

***Project Food Blog voting is officially open!  Check out my entry page on Foodbuzz to vote, I have SO MUCH appreciation for your support!***  

Friends, I am really excited today to give you a full review of one of my new favorite lunch spots.  Actually, that's sort of a misnomer, since my new favorite 'spot' is actually a mobile hot food truck serving gourmet, hand-crafted street food: San Diego's own MIHO Gastrotruck

Over the last few years, there has been an evolution in the world of hot food trucks; previously, many major metropolitan areas were dotted with food stands and food trucks that served greasy foods or cold sandwiches, both with ingredients that the customer might rather not identify.  This is not to say the food didn't taste good, but it was squarely in the realm of 'fast food.'  More recently, the 'gourmet' food truck movement started in cities like New York and San Francisco, and then spread to Los Angeles, Portland, and even San Diego.  These gourmet food trucks differed from their predecessors, because in one way or another, they were stepping it up; instead of a fake crab patty you could get escarot and you could choose to eat a burger with grass-fed beef instead of mystery meat.  The lowly hot food truck was being elevated to haute cuisine. 

Here in San Diego, we now have quite a few gourmet food trucks cruising the streets, and San Diegians can take their pick according to what they feel like eating, and what food truck happens to be in their neighborhood that day.  Some food trucks are more popular than others, and MIHO Gastrotruck has definitely surged ahead and has strong foothold in local communities; it also happens to be my favorite because their food philosophies are aligned precisely with mine.  I like to know exactly what I am eating, and MIHO serves hand-crafted food (which means they make everything from scratch) and they get all their ingredients from local farms which means their menu changes weekly according to the seasons.  

If you know me at all by now, you are aware that I am a pretty curious and inquisitive person (I am a scientist, it comes with the territory), so when I decided to review MIHO gastrotruck I wanted to interview owners Juan Miron and Kevin Ho to get the full story about MIHO.                

I hope you enjoyed my coverage of MIHO gastrotruck!  I had such a great time talking with Juan since he is really down to earth and it is always a pleasure to chat with someone else who truly loves food.  The clip above is obviously an edited version of our interview and I wanted you to be able to see the whole thing if you are interested, so be sure to check out both Part 1 and Part 2 of my MIHO interview on YouTube.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey Noodle Soup, and Homemade Stock

As I mentioned before, I wasn't able to head home to Ohio for Thanksgiving and so I spent the day with my friend Ana and her family.  The dinner was by all accounts fabulous, and dessert was even better (though I barely had room!).  Never again will I complain about having to do anything labor-intensive after eating a massive Thanksgiving dinner prepared by a woman who is 7+ months pregnant.  Seriously, I don't know how she did it.  Did I mention she also has an adorable 2-year old and that there were 3 other little ones running around?  Such are the superpowers of moms.  I offered my help multiple times, but it seems superwoman and her equally super husband were able to pull off a delicious dinner and a happy family gathering with ease.  Many thanks for a great day with family, friends, and satisfying comfort food.

Now the days after Thanksgiving can often be a let down from the big day.  All the extensive preparations are over, the 20-pound turkeys have (almost) been devoured, and that annoying aunt or uncle has finally left the premises for good (or at least until Christmas).  In the silence that follows, many people can feel lonely and nostalgic while others start to get into full-on Christmas mode.  Me??  I feel a little bit of both; after Thanksgiving I indulged myself and started my Christmas baking and also soothed myself with soup (and also shopping, but we don't need to talk about that-or look at those receipts-just yet).

When I was having dinner at Ana's place, I was secretly hoping that there would be enough turkey left so that I could take some home to make myself at least one bowl of soup; however, I was in for a big treat because there were loads of turkey left over!  Score!  So there I was, helping myself to my portion of leftovers, when Ana's husband called his brother over to help him get the turkey carcass into a bag.  I assumed they were bagging it up to keep in the fridge, and I continued shoveling my loot (aka turkey) into a container.  When John took the bag and said, "Ok, into the trash!" I screeched out, "Waaaait!  I will take it home!"  Ana, John, and his brother all looked at me for a minute like I was crazy.  "I will use it to make turkey stock," I explained.  They still looked at me like I was crazy.  (You don't think I am crazy, right?)