Indulgences – who am I to say no?

Listen. Not the best advice. But today I had a croissant for breakfast and cashews for lunch.
So when the waitress comped the donut-wich – like a chipwich with cinnamon donuts instead of cookies – for dessert tonight, who was I to say no?!?
Amazing. Wrong. And delicious at Umami burger. Where, bee-tee-dubs it’s #truffleseason.

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Cro-Nutting: The Privilege of a Great Houseguest

cronuts trader joe's frozen croissants dessert

Cro-Nutted Croissants

Cro-Nutting, v. The Art of Frying That Which Should Not Be Fried.

Truth – I don’t like to fry, deep fry, stuff in my apartment. A few good reasons…

  1. cronuts kitchen frying

    Coffee Tin

    It’s a bit messy and the hot oil can escape the cauldron and dirty surrounding cabinets and counters.

  2. When the frying is over and after you’ve overindulged in a good fried treat, you’re left with a large vat of used oil and no where to dispose of it…OK, you’re supposed to put in into an empty coffee tin and freeze it before throwing away…But, I think you have to go back to 1985 to find an empty coffee tin.
  3. The frying leaves a certain odor – note, not really aroma, but odor – in your tiny living space and on your furniture, walls, carpets, floors and towels.
  4. OH, yeah….and technically frying anything is super fattening.

So, I only fry during away games. Listen, I’m a great house guest. Someone even recently named me guest of the decade. I mean, I keep a clean room, cook, entertain people’s kids, run errands and always wash my sheets and towels before my departure. So, letting me do a little frying in your kitchen seems like a small price to pay.

On a recent visit to the middle – that space between New York City and LA where my brother and his people live – I decided to entertain my two favorite teenagers with a frying bonanza.

Prior to my arrival, I emailed the kids with some culinary options that we could deep fry in their large suburban kitchen.

But the only thing they wanted was….Cronuts, the croissant/donut hybrid that is all the rage in NYC right now, a treat that is not yet available in Cincy.

The attention span of any teenager is similar to that of an ant – even my incredibly intellectually advanced niece and nephew. So, I knew that creating cronuts from scratch wouldn’t be an option. I did some research and decided the best way to go would be to cronut frozen croissants from Trader Joe’s.

Tiny Apartment Tips:

  1. Don’t deep fry in your apartment for reasons already outlined above
  2. Do be the best guest to earn the privilege to deep fry when guesting outside of the city

Cro-Nutted TJ’s Croissnts (servings…really, no one should eat any of these, so at a serving size of one bite, this’ll make about 24)

Ingredients:

  • trader joe's frozen croissants cronuts

    NOT mini

    1 Box Trader Joe’s frozen croissants – they come  8 to a box – AND the box says ‘Mini’…but, they are not mini

  • 1 Large Cauldron of vegetable oil – about 1 1/2 – 2 inches deep
  • 1 Candy Thermometer – I’ve been trying to find the one that has the temp taker attached to a long cord vs the glass one that clips to the side of the cauldron…but, haven’t found it yet. LMK if you have any ideas
  • 1 Fry Spider kitchen tool – readily available everywhere and a kitchen must
  • 1 Tub of Dolci Frutti Chocolate hard chocolate shell OR A Jar of Nutella Hazelnut Spread

1. The night before you want to make these ridiculously caloric and fat heavy treats…You have to take the frozen Trader Joe’s Croissants out of the package, separate, set on a plate and let sit out overnight. The frozen croissants magically rise while you’re sleeping and double in size – again, not mini

2. Pour 1 1/2 inches of vegetable oil into a large, deep cauldron….Or big pot

3. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. OK, maintaining 350 degrees is tricky – so, heat the oil higher, then turn it way down. Oil must be between 325 – 350, so keep checking that now dangerously hot glass candy thermometer that’s clipped to the side of the cauldron and adjust the stove as needed

4. Using a tiny (1 inch) biscuit cutter (remember, buy the full set of biscuit cutters that nest) cut the croissants into little bite-sized pieces

sur la table biscuit cutters

Space Saving Biscuit Cutters

5. Gently…very gently….using a spider or other good frying tool…lower the croissant cut-outs into the scalding oil

croissant cronuts trader joe's frying with kids

Gently frying away

6. Fry each side for about a minute – you’ll know when to flip cuz they brown up nicely

7. Remove the friedness from the oil and transfer to a paper towel to blot the excess oil – this is a step that just makes you feel better…but really, these are fried, so get over it.

cronut recipe trader joe's croissants

Fried Goodness – light, flaky and….FRIED

8. While frying, in the microwave melt up some of those Dolci Frutti chocolate shell chocolate chips

dolci frutti chocolate dip cronuts trader joe's

Find in Produce Section

9. Once the Cro-Nutted Croissants are quasi cooled – hand them along with the melty chocolate to your niece and nephew who can then spoon chocolate-y goodness over the deep fried delight

10. Eat….But eat only one, seriously

I always gain about 500lbs when I go to the middle…Or does just the fat go to the middle, whatever. But, you can’t put a price on entertaining kids with the art of deep frying. And, if you want to feel a little better, Cro-Nutted Croissants are technically vegetarian. Just remember to be a good guest and clean up. You don’t want to lose your fry-privileges.

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler: 3 Days in The Big Easy

emeril's new orleans chicken restaurants

Chili Glazed Farm Chicken: Emeril’s New Orleans

I spent this past weekend in New Orleans. Yeah, that’s right – in the Big Easy. I learned a lot over the course of just three days. And, thought maybe a photo essay of the journey (I use ‘journey’ a lot now because of ABC’s The Bachelor) would be the best way to share.

Where it all began: A rough start

nyc snow delta to new orleans

I woke to this view from my apartment..Not promising for travel…

And the snow was only getting worse. Still, those nice people at the delta.com flight status board assured me that my 11am flight would be ‘on time’. And, I headed to the airport. Only to find that my flight had been canceled. And, I was rescheduled on a much later flight. Much much later….

lga delta direct to msy flying new orleans

My original flight posting

lga to msy direct delta airport dining

Posting the delay…upon delay…upon delay

But I made some friends which helped to pass the time….I mean we were all in the same situation….

dining at LaGuardia

Bob the Brit, NBFF at LGA

chef lga to msy flight delay delta

Young chef and all day LGA pal

And, we ate some food, and maybe drank a little – which helped:

delta to msy from lga dining

Cool way to keep busy and order food at LGA – Order on iPad…

And, we met all kinds of people during our long long wait…

bachelorette party new orleans lga to msy direct delta

Yes, the ‘bride’ is wearing a penis head band.

After about 12 hours at LGA (with a detour to JFK and back), my flight finally took off and I was on my way…

Upon arrival just shy of midnight, a friend and I took a stroll – read elbow to elbow walk through very happy (read drunk) people on Bourbon St. We stopped just once to have a quick drink at a piano bar…nothing notable – then back to the hotel and to bed.

Saturday Brunch with Friends at Brennan’s in the French Quarter

mimosa's brennan's new orleans brunch

Began as it should – Mimosas in the Garden at Brennan’s

There are a few things one must try in New Orleans…many of these are alcohol based:

milk punch New Orleans brennan's brunch

Milk Punch – Like a Grown Up Milkshake

brunch brennan's new orleans dining

Mel not loving her first Bloody Mary

For brunch, I had Eggs Sardou: an amazing plate of poached eggs on artichoke hearts and a bed of creamed spinach…Hollandaise sauce on the side:

poached eggs at Brennan's new orleans

Paprika on One, Chives on the Other

And….Of course, we ordered cheese grits for the table. YUM.

cheese grits brunch brennan's new orleans

Cheesy Cheese Grits

For dessert…The Bananas Foster Flambe is a MUST:

brennan's new orleans bananas foster

The Bananas Foster is a MUST order: This is the Before shot

brennan's bananas foster new orleans

Drama! Flambe-ing of Bananas Foster – During the Flambe Process

bananas foster flambe brennan's new orleans

And…Plated

That night, we all attended a wedding at The Foundry in the Warehouse District. A couple of things I didn’t know about New Orleans weddings.

1. After the ceremony, all guests join the bride and groom in what’s called ‘Second Line;’ – a brass band lead parade around the block. Really fun and a great way to get the party started.

2. Apparently….you can include a drag queen performance. This was our late night wedding entertainment:

wedding drag queen new orleans

You could see her giant panties through the dress

After the wedding we not so wisely braved the crowds of people on Bourbon St. I mean, we just had to get giant drinks in collectible cups. A couple of notes about life on Bourbon Street:

1. There is no ban on open containers of alcohol…except that booze must be in a ‘go-cup’ which any bar will gladly give you as you walk out the door. In New Orleans, creating the most sugary, insanely boozed up cocktail and then crafting a desireable keep sake container, is a sport

grenade drinks Bourbon St new orleans

The Grenade: Fruity Boozy and in a Keepsake Container

2. While the drinking age is 21, New Orleans differentiates between the age of purchase and the age of consumption. SO….if you are 18, your mommy or daddy or guardian or creepy older boyfriend can buy you a drink and you are then allowed to drink it. This came in handy as we had an 18 year old with us.

boozy cocktails on bourbon street new orleans

And… We also had these…Shark Attack!

We were back to the hotel after a quick dance at Oz – which made our gay friends happy as it’s a gay bar – and tucked in bed by the crack of 4am.

Sunday…We classed it up and went to one of the most historic and notable restaurants in town.

Galatoire’s Brunch (note the big meal at Galatoire’s is Friday lunch…but since we didn’t make it to New Orleans in time for that, Sunday brunch would have to do)

Galatoire's New Orleans restaurant

Galatoire’s Lovely Logo’d Glass

A few tips to fitting in at Galatoire’s:

1. Everyone has his/her own waiter…I mean like the regulars go back and request a specific waiter. Some of the waiters have been there for years…like 35 years. As we didn’t have such history, we were assigned a great waiter named Murphy – I highly recommend him!

2. Don’t ask to see a menu – no one who is anyone does that! Your waiter will guide you to the most amazing dishes – trust him.

3. Get the Oysters En Brochette. It’s oysters and bacon deep fried and delicious

galatoire's brunch sunday menu

Fried, Salty, Briny and Amazing Oysters En Brochette

4. Try the turtle soup. You can’t do that at Brennan’s because Brennan’s back yard has a pond with turtles basking in the sun…It would just be rude to order turtle soup there. Our waiter at Galatoire’s, Murphy, brought us a sample as he knows it’s a New Orleans must have

turtle soup new orleans galatoire's

Yes, there are real turtles in there

5. Go with someone who is willing to share. My dining date and I split the lamb chops with mushroom sauce and the redfish…Well, Murphy split it for us….And, a side of the creamiest most amazing potatoes au gratin:

galatoire's lamb chops and redfish

So So good…And, love the sauce soaked white toast

amazing potatoes au gratin galatoire's new orleans

Potatoes Au Gratin, Not So Rotten

6. And….Have a martini. It’s the right thing to do in such a cool, old school venue.

After brunch, we took a walk – read: tried to walk it off. We popped into Carousel Bar to visit with the newly married couple and have a vodka soda. Then took a food coma nap before preparing for dinner.

Emeril’s New Orleans: Sunday Dinner

Emerils logo

This is Emeril’s original restaurant. It’s located in the warehouse district, so if you’re staying in the French Quarter…It’s a bit of a walk. Though, really, after all you’ve eaten, you should walk. We took a cab.

Because we were hungry – go with it, you’re in New Orleans – we ate:

Emeril's New orleans appetizer

Angel Hair with Mushrooms in a Taso Cream Sauce

And we also had….

Emeril's new orleans menu dinner

Roasted Filet Mignon…And, more potatoes

emeril's new orleans chicken restaurants

Chili Glazed Farm Chicken

Emeril's new orleans souffle

Oozing Chocolate Goodness Inside

Luckily, we also saved room for dessert. After all, we didn’t have dessert at Galatoire’s. At Emeril’s they have an amazing chocolate souffle…but, order it when you order your meal as it takes :30mins to prepare. Well worth the calories!

We paired it with a lovely Schramsberg rose.

Amazing dinner…and a great farewell meal. Definitely better than the eggs and grits I had at the airport Monday morning.

After our three day dining, drinking and wedding dancing extravaganza, I’m in love with New Orleans. And, while the good times certainly rolled this past weekend, the only thing rolling now is the fat on my satisfied stomach.

But the temporary weight gain is totally worth it. And, all I can say is: Get to New Orleans and laissez les bons temps rouler!

Fact: Cooking With Kids Is A Ball

monkey bread cooking with kids

Most Fattening Thing Ever

As the little people (not short, but younger) in your life age, they become much more creative, interesting and culinarily challenging.

I’ve just returned from a weekend of kids-cooking in Cincinnati with my niece and nephew (oldest brother’s kids). I used to get away with simple recipes like pancakes and cupcakes and fried chicken… But, now the kids are older and demand more from our kitchen creations.

When my middle brother visits my niece and nephew, he entertains the kids with movie making, science experimentation, Harry Potter regaling and intellectual conversations. He’s a Potter Scholar, Science Junkie and PHD in Philosophy – please address him as ‘Dr. James’.

My visits, though, involve intricate meal planning, grocery list organization, food procurement, inspired baking and cooking.

It starts weeks in advance of my arrival. The kids are old now – 14 and 13. So, I email them proposed menus and we go back and forth via text and email in the days leading up to my visit to solidify a weekend’s worth of kitchen entertainment.

Several criteria for each creation must be met.

Firstly, the culinary endeavors must include an element of artistry.

The Hunger Games Katniss drawing

Katniss by Meggie

anniesdishlist icon

Colored in Post

My niece is an amazing artist – like really good. She gets it from my brother – actually, both brothers draw. I, on the other hand, can barely scratch out a stick figure.

In addition to my niece’s inspired cartoon characters – the AnniesDishList icon – she does incredible portraits.

Secondly…we must satisfy their yen for all things scientific.

nasa john glenn jim lovell astronauts

Real Astronauts

My nephew has been fascinated with science and space since birth. At 14 he has met John Glenn, been to Cape Canaveral, experienced Zero G and has already targeted three universities. Cal-Tech has a partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (he’s visited) and preps students to join this elite group of scientists. Stanford has the leading research lab for his rare skin condition. And… MIT…because, well, it’s MIT.

dramatic dog cooking with kids

Broken Paw Act

Lastly, we like to layer in a hint of the dramatic. My people are a dramatic people. It’s genetic and inescapable. In my brother’s family, even the dog is dramatic. Unlike most dogs, their dog, Fred, hates going outside. The tiny hypo-allergenic pooch starts to shake with terror the moment he catches a glimpse of his harness and leash. Here’s a pic of the dog trying to avoid a trip out into the snow and cold by faking, yes faking, a paw injury. Apparently, the dog does this every time he’s confronted with the terror of venturing outdoors. Oy!

So the weekend kitchen challenges had to incorporate art, science and drama.

For snacks, we selected a spherical theme. (Everything below is like OTT fattening…don’t judge. They’re very thin, active kids).

Monkey Bread: artistic abilities tapped as we strategically placed dough balls in a pie plate.

monkey bread cooking with kids

Monkey Bread: Most Fattening Thing Ever

I’m not sure why it’s called monkey bread…It should maybe be called super fattening, sugary, buttery bread balls of gooey goodness. We carefully melted an entire stick of butter and then stirred in brown and white sugars and cinnamon. Once the sugars disolve, the resulting gooeyness is creatively poured over every inch of the dough balls before the entire thing is baked in the oven.

Next….Not too dramatic or scientific…but, creative and relatively goodish for the kids and satisfying our spherical theme…We made spinach party poppers. One might argue that the spinach element balanced out our not so healthy Super Bowl weekend indulgences of guac and chips, monkey bread, pancake breakfast etc. One might argue that for sure.

spinach balls appetizers

Parmesan Spinach Balls

Spinach Party Poppers. may be the best way to get kids to eat spinach. And, represented the vegetable portion of our weekend food fest.

Satisfying the scientific challenge was probably the toughest part. In advance of my arrival, my nephew had proposed a series of molecular gastronomy recipes (damn Internet). All of the recipes included ingredients you just can’t get at the local Kroger like Sodium Alginate, Agar-Agar and Calcium Lactate. Some of the recipes included tools not found in most kitchens like an ISI Whip or a Flux Capacitor…at least it may as well have called for one.

We tried to find what we needed. We even called every Brookstone in a 25 mile radius looking for the Molecular Gastronomy kit…And, some super gourmet organic-y food specialty store in Kentucky in hopes of finding any one of the necessary ingredients or tools. But, no go.

So…as we had no ISI Whip we improvised and used a medical syringe to create mozzarella balloons. In the end, the cheesy balloons were as simple as heating up the mozzarella in simmering water. Then wrapping the malleable cheese around the tip of a syringe and inflating the cheese with air. My nephew initially wanted to use my brother’s bike pump – but, if you’ve seen ‘This is 40’, you know no self-respecting 40-something biking enthusiast father would allow that.

molecular gastronomy

Mozzarella Balloon – syringe technique

These were pretty cool. In the Molecular Gastronomy recipe, one can fill the balloons with herbs, spices or other tantalizing aromas by infusing them through the ISI Whip….We were just happy to inflate the cheese and then proudly display the inflated cheese creation.

Meggie ItalyShane ItalyI like that the little people are like real people now. I’m a little biased, and they really are challenging, interesting, interested, funny, smart, creative great kids. In total over the course of three days, we made over 10 culinary creations. And, even though every dish might not have met the artistic, scientific, dramatic challenge, cooking with these two was really a ball.

Infinity is Still Bigger than Google: My Mom’s Christmas Cookies

mom's christmas cookies

Decorated, Baked and Ready for Gifting

Pre-Google, moms could just tell you stuff. Like make stuff up to answer your billions of questions. And we just believed her – because she was the mom. Sure, sometimes she might say ‘Let’s look that up in the encyclopedia’ or ‘I’m not sure, let’s ask your dad.’ But, in our house, there was a point at which with four kids bombarding mom with our questions, she just simply made it up.

google logo

The Google

Now, there’s the Google – a world where we can find anything out in the click of a mouse. The Google (I like to say ‘the Google’) has changed the way we learn and the way we argue. Now there’s no arguing, there’s only The Googling. I mean, why take a side when in just a nano-second you can be proven wrong…or right?

Pre-Google we were led to believe many things…One of the greatest and most delicious lies of my life was that the Christmas cookies we made and decorated every year (back in the day of suburban cookie exchanges…do they still do that?) were created from a recipe handed down for generations on my mother’s side.

A few years ago, when I decided to take a stab at the recipe in my apartment and treat my coworkers to a long-storied family holiday secret…I found out the truth.

I Googled ‘Christmas Cookies’. And ‘decorating Christmas cookies.’ And ‘holiday sugar cookies’….And, there it was. Right there on the screen of my Mac.

Did ‘Annie’s Mom’s Secret Christmas Cookies’ come up? No, no it did not.

As it turns out, what I believed were My Mom’s Secret Christmas Cookies…really belonged to someone named, Mary. Mary. They were Mary’s Sugar Cookies…But, still the best Christmas (or Chanukah or Festivas) cookies out there.

And, if you don’t believe me, you can Google it.

Mom and Mary’s Christmas Cookies (makes 5 dozen)

NOTE: There’s a chilling period of 3 hours … so plan ahead!

Ingredients:

  • Christmas Sugar Cookies

    Decorating Mise En Place

    1 1/2 Cups sifted powdered/confectioners sugar – I sifted using a mesh strainer – but for the sugar, a real sifter would be easier…and quicker

  • 1 Cup softened butter
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 TSP Vanilla
  • 1/2 TSP Almond Extract/Flavoring
  • 2 1/2 Cups Gold Medal Flour sifted – sifting flour through a mesh strainer is actually really easy and quick – much easier than sifting the confectioners sugar
  • 1 TSP Baking Soda – sift this in with the flour
  • Christmas cookies

    Sifting the Dry Stuff

    1 TSP Cream of Tartar – sift this in with the flour and baking soda

  • Colored Sugar Crystals for decorating – I bought India Tree Sugar Crystals, expensive but really fun colors!
  • Cookie Cutters – saved here by buying an assortment box at Bed Bath & Beyond
christmas cookie decorating with kids

Super 7-Year Old

And the most important of all ingredients…One super 7-year old girl – you can substitute any child of any cookie decorating age here. But, my 7-year old sous chef was the best!

1. In the bowl of a Kitchen Aid mixer, mix together the Sugar and the Butter

holiday sugar cookies

I heart my Kitchen Aid

2. Add the egg, the vanilla extract and the almond extract

3. Mix in the Flour, Baking Soda, Cream of Tartar mixture 1/2 a cup at a time until smooth

Mary's Sugar Cookies

Add Flour in Stages – scrape down side of bowl

4. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, divide into same sized balls. Cover each with wax paper and refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

holiday sugar cookies

I doubled the recipe

Go Christmas shopping. Sing carols. Decorate your home. Watch ‘Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town’.

Preheat Oven to 375 degrees

5. Remove one of the dough balls from the fridge and allow to warm a bit (about :10mins on the counter)

6. Roll out the ball on a heavily floured surface to about 3/16″ thick. I like them thin and crispy – but this is really your call

christmas cookies

Decorating!

christmas cookies cut out

Decorated and Oven Ready

7. Using cookie cutters – cut out holiday shapes

8. Decorate

9. Put into the oven and bake for 6-8 minutes depending upon thickness of cookies

christmas cookie cutters

This one is an angel..but, looks like MothMan…right?

10. Remove from the oven, transfer cookies to a rack and allow to cool for a few moments

11. Carefully place the cookies into a holiday themed box or cookie tin.

12. You can eat them, gift them, or take to one of those suburban cookie exchanges!

holiday themed cookie box

Boxed and Ready for Gifting

I love the Google. But, ever since its introduction, we’ve all probably been forced to realize the little lies and deceptions our mothers may have told us.

holiday christmas cookies

More Love than Infinity

There are still some things that are immune to the Google. The other day, my 7-year old sous chef asked her mom: ‘What’s bigger…Google or Infinity?’

Her mom didn’t have to Google that one and she didn’t have to lie…She honestly replied: ‘Infinity’…

And, that super 7-year old didn’t miss a beat and said: ‘Well then, Mommy, I love you more than Infinity.’

I don’t know who this cookie baking chick Mary is or was…But, I do know that the cookie recipe is just part of the equation in creating the perfect Christmas cookie. The magic, intangible ingredients come from the family tradition of making the cookies, decorating the cookies, sneaking a slice of the chilled dough from the fridge as a snack. The magic is in the super sous chefs and little helpers who carry more love than infinity. Because Infinity is still bigger than Google.