Advertise on Always Order Dessert!


I have a confession to make: I kind of love blog ads.

Not the big corporate ads for Philadelphia cream cheese or Betty Crocker (as much as I love retro Betty Crocker), but rather those beautiful quirky ads that introduce me to incredible new stores, creative Etsy vendors, and really cool new blogs. And while I do this here mostly for the love of the game, I realistically would love to bring in a bit more revenue to help out with things like domain services, hosting fees, conference registrations...and butter (it's pricey, y'all!).

That said, I'm very excited to announce that I've opened up a few select ad spaces here on Always Order Dessert, and I would love YOU, my awesome readers, to be the first to take advantage. I'd love to feature ads for small business, Etsy sellers, creative services, and for other gorgeous websites. Products and services that I can seriously recommend and suggest to my readers with as much confidence as I do my recipes. I'd also like to encourage cool non-profit organizations to advertise, and I'm offering 50% off the stated posted rates for all registered 501c3 organizations.

In return, I'm offering access to an incredible and loyal community of web-savvy readers who shop online regularly, and who are passionate about cooking, dining, and entertaining; prominent and generously-sized ad space; and my seal of approval for all ads I choose to run (that means that I'm only accepting ads for things I genuinely like and am comfortable recommending; no belly-slimming pills or naked ladies, please!).

Inaugural Offer: The first 3 advertisers who sign up for one of my ad packages will receive a lifetime discount of 20% off the posted rates PLUS a free 100-word sponsored post in the blog introducing your product or service the first week your ad runs. This is only available to the first three so no dilly-dallying!

Interested? Click here for more details on my ad packages and a demographic summary or e-mail me at alejandra@alwaysorderdessert.com to get started!

xoxo

Alejandra

Win a Bag of Fab Foodie Swag!


The bloggers and food writers who attended the outing I hosted at New York Botanical Garden last weekend each went home with an amazing gift bag full of incredible foodie swag. The products, each generously donated by a number of local NY, sustainable, organic, or artisan vendors, were all pretty fantastic. Here's what was inside:
  • 1 organic cotton apron from American Feast
  • 1 beautiful hand-dyed batik tea towel from 5 o'clock crows
  • 1 jar virgin coconut oil from Tropical Traditions
  • 1 citrus coconut oil lip balm from Tropical Traditions
  • 1 package of 3-berry Cashew Cacao Nib Trail Mix from Navitas Naturals
  • 1 jar Peach Rosemary preserves from SchoolHouse Kitchen
  • 1 box of single-serving dark chocolate and peanut butter squeeze packs from Peanut Butter & Co
  • 1 coupon for a free bar of Green & Black's organic chocolate
  • 2 packages of Q.bel chocolate wafer bars and rolls
  • 1 box of freshly baked cookies by Sara Snacker
  • 1 jar of Salsa Timoteo Salsa Verde
  • 1 package of Eat Whatever organic breath mints/capsules
  • 2 sets of Mothering Mother unbleached cotton reusable produce bags (in size large and small)
  • 1 coupon for an 8x10 styrene print from Katana Photography
  • 1 30-minute life coaching session from YVR Business Visions (my mom's company!)
  • 1 Esse Quick Pak (contains 1 everyday bag and 2 produce bags) in resealable storage bag
  • 1 Esse reusable shopping tote

Pretty great swag bag, right?

Well, I thought it would be fun to put together an extra bag so that one of YOU can take part in the fun. The bag the winning reader receives will contain everything mentioned above.*

To win it, just leave a comment below with a recommendation for something cool you've recently discovered. It can be anything: a delicious restaurant, a great book, a new kind of cereal, a neighborhood park...anything!

You'll have until next Monday (July 5th) at 12PM EST to enter. A winner will then be drawn using the Random Number Generator.

NOTE: Due to the size and weight of this bag, I can only ship to addresses in the continental US (way too rich for my blood otherwise!), but if you live elsewhere and have a friend in one of these 48 states who can receive it for you, feel free to enter!


Extra Entries: If you’d like to increase your chances of winning, please leave a separate comment for each of the following extra entry options (you must leave a separate comment below for each one or it won't count):
  • Become a fan of Always Order Dessert on Facebook, and leave a comment on my Facebook wall. If you’re already a fan, leave a comment on the wall and another here saying you did.
  • Post this contest on YOUR Facebook wall with a link to this post, and leave a comment here letting me know you did.
  • Tweet the giveaway with a link to this post (please include your Twitter username in the comment below).
  • Subscribe to my weekly newsletter and leave a comment saying you subscribed.

There you go...SIX chances to win a big bag full of awesome stuff.

Good luck to all of you!!



*Except for the Sara Snacker cookies since those were perishable.

The Edible Garden at New York Botanical Garden


Last Saturday, I hosted a group of 25 food bloggers and food writers at the New York Botanical Garden for an outing to celebrate the kick-off of NYBG's Edible Garden Exhibit.

Though a New Yorker for most of my life (I was even *born* in the Bronx!) I'd never before made the really rather quick and easy trip up to the Botanical Garden. In fact, for the longest time, I didn't even know it existed!



Exists, it does. And it is beautiful! Just a quick trip on Metro North (about 20 minutes from Grand Central; even less from Harlem) is a botanical paradise that feels like a mini vacation. 250 acres of gorgeous gardens, winding paths, and woodland area are available for exploring by foot or on a continuous guided tram tour. A number of events rotate throughout the year--from science talks to chef demos to celebrity book signings.

We were there for the Edible Garden, an incredible event that celebrates locally grown, seasonal food through demonstrations from food and gardening experts every day, plus four "Festival Weekends." If you're into food (and I'm sure you are because otherwise you wouldn't be here), I definitely recommend a visit when you're in the NY area (if possible, I recommend a visit on August 21st, when none other than yours truly will be the featured guest chef doing cooking demos on the Kitchen Stage!).



The other bloggers and I sat through an excellent talk by Blue Hill's Dan Barber, who shared his views that all food needs to have a story. He demonstrated this by telling us the origins of the seeds of the polenta he serves in his restaurants; polenta which is harvested and ground just a couple hours before dinner so as to preserve its most integral quality.

Dan also talked quite a bit about olive oil (after a few questions from the audience) and surprised many of us olive oil fanatics by insisting that olive oil should never be cooked with. He also noted that the only olive oil worth buying is that sold in tiny dark bottles. Otherwise, he prefers the neutral flavor of grapeseed oil for cooking.



The talk was followed by a hosted lunch at the Garden Cafe where we provided with a gorgeous reserved table set for kings (it was so pretty that as our group walked towards it, I asked the Marketing Director who was hosting us what that table was for; I thought it was for a wedding and was surprised when she said it was for us!).

After lunch, the bloggers split up, taking the next few hours to explore the gardens at their own leisurely pace. Eugene and I caught a few minutes of a Sara Moulton demo, and then headed over to the tasting terrace where we sampled local NY wines, a delicious fresh ginger soda, and a few other tasty treats.


We also came across a young man (with an absolutely beautiful voice and accent--even Eugene remarked on it!) demonstrating something called "Woolly Pockets." These cool hanging bags (in blue in the photo), made out of recycled bottles and fibers, can be hung anywhere and planted with herbs and other small plants.

They were pretty fantastic (we saw some that had gorgeous baby strawberries growing out if it) and seem like a great option for urban gardeners and others with limited ground space.



Just past the tasting terrace, we came across the beautiful kitchen gardens; edible gardens designed by a number of celebrity chefs like Dan Barber, Mario Batalli, and Martha Stewart. It was hot and we were getting a bit sleepy, so we hopped on a passing tram and settled in for a relaxing tram tour of the grounds.


The tram took us all the way up to the rose garden, where the roses were all just starting to come in. It smelled absolutely incredible in there and Eugene and I kept running around stopping to smell each rose. I loved how each one had a distinct (albeit similar) aroma. I just wanted to bottle it all up!


I'm excited to go back to the Garden on August 21st. I will be hosting two live cooking demos at 1PM and 3PM on the same stage Dan Barber and Sara Moulton appeared as part of the Edible Garden exhibit.

You're all invited to come check it out, and bring your friends and children as it's a really wonderful place for the whole family. Please let me know if you plan to go as I'd love to meet you in person!


The Edible Garden at New York Botanical Garden
June 19 - October 17

Admission for members is free; for nonmembers (per day): $30 for adults; $28 for students and those 65 and older; and $8 for children 2 and over.

For more information and event schedules, visit nybg.org or call 718.817.8700.



BONUS!
Each of the bloggers that attended my event at NYBG went home with a big goodie bag FULL of food and kitchen swag. I put together an extra bag so that one of you could have the chance to win one. Details in my next post!

Kitchen Tip: Substituting Ingredients

Without fail, the most popular question I get from my readers (that’s you!), is "What can I substitute for x in this recipe?" Whether out of necessity (you *thought* you had three eggs left in the carton but really just have one), dietary reasons, or simply a taste preference (sigh...cilantro haters), we all find ourselves in situations when we have to replace one ingredient for another.

As much as I love hearing from you and answering your questions, I thought you might like to know about this little book that I've recently found quite useful in my own kitchen.

Called Substituting Ingredients, this handy little pocket-sized paperback by Becky Sue Epstein is a great reference book to keep in your kitchen, whether your developing recipes for your blog or just cooking for the family. Organized in alphabetical order, it contains suggestions and recommendations for just about any ingredient your recipe may call for (and even a few your recipes probably never will...did you know that shark is a good substitute for scallops? Me neither!).


Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold:
Substituting Ingredients: The A to Z Kitchen Reference
By Becky Sue Epstein



Party Inspiration: Lazy Weekend Brunch

Hosting a brunch is one of my favorite ways to entertain a group of friends. Delicious, yes, but it's also a low-key and really inexpensive way to feed a crowd as you can get away with serving little more than eggs, bread, and fruit. Assure endless glasses of mimosa by squeezing a pitcher of fresh orange juice (or just buying a carton with "lots of pulp") and asking your friends to each pitch in with a bottle of their favorite sparkly beverage (skip the pricey champagne in favor of affordable and equally-delicious prosecco).

For the menu, think bakery-warm sweet rolls, fresh corn muffins, maple-sweetened butter, a bowl of in-season fruit, and a sugar-dusted Dutch baby pancake still sizzling in the skillet. Stick bunches of grocery store flowers (pretty and cheap!) in whatever jars you have laying around and set each place with a summer-bright tea towel as a double-duty placemat/napkin. Fill big heavy latte bowls to the brim, and settle in for a few lazy hours.

If you'd like to make a day of it, plan an equally lazy post-lunch activity (perhaps a walk across the street to the neighbor's garage sale or a few old movies to watch) and leave the leftover baked goods out on the table for a bit of grazing later on in the afternoon.

(Note: lush brunches and black & white movies are even more appreciated when your guests have been out late the previous night. Nothing like being fed and taken care of by a friend when your head is still in a bit of a fog...just make sure the start time is closer to "lunch" than "breakfast.")

From Left to Right, Top to Bottom

1. yellow rose bouquet in vintage Ball jar
2. pretty mismatched plates, Country Living
3. Pan de Mallorca
4. Latte Bowls, Anthropologie
5. Mimosa punch
6. P.O.S.H. Hotel Vintage Flatware
7. Fresh corn muffins
8. Dutch baby pancake w/ cinnamon orange syrup
9. hand-dyed batik tea towels, Five O'Clock Crows

Whole Wheat Strawberry Buttermilk Cake


I've spent the past several weeks craving hearty, wholesome things. Bowls of creamy risotto made with farro instead of rice. Quinoa tossed with sautéed mushrooms, herbs, and handfuls of crumbled feta. Nearly too-ripe bananas whipped with honey, peanut butter, and thick creamline milk. It's summer and it's hot, but my appetite has been veering towards that of a farmgirl in autumn.

Coupled with an insatiable urge to bake, I came up with this cake: Whole wheat flour and flax for that nubby, nutty taste. Buttermilk because it had to be used (isn’t that always the case with buttermilk?). Fresh strawberries sliced in half for big generous bites. Peach jam instead of sugar (because I'd mostly run out), but for texture, a sprinkle of sweet turbinado crystals (from a packet I found crumbled at the bottom of my purse).

The cake baked up perky and brown, with little bits of strawberry juice bubbling just around each bite of fruit. I set it to cool on a rack by an open window and after a while it sighed and relaxed into itself just a bit. I quickly took a photo and then cut myself a slice as I could wait no longer. The first bite was heavenly...still hot and pudding-like. I ate it quickly and helped myself to another.


****
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e-mail me.

Thanks for reading!


Whole Wheat Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I love the Whole Foods whole wheat pastry flour that’s light and soft)
2 tablespoons ground flax (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup peach or apricot preserves
1 stick butter
1 (generous) teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 cup whole buttermilk

1 pint strawberries, washed, stemmed, and cut in half

2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”)


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 9” springform pan.

In a large bowl, sift together the whole wheat flour, flax, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set this aside.

In the base of your mixer (if you have one) beat the butter and preserves until well combined. Add the vanilla and the egg and beat in. Add the buttermilk and then the flour, until it’s all just combined.

Pour the batter into your baking tin and then drop the strawberry halves in all over the cake. It’s OK if they fall on top of each other...some of them are bound to sink in. Sprinkle the turbinado sugar all over the top and then put the whole thing in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Let cool in the pan for about 10-15 minutes then release the sides and take out the cake. Let cool (as much as you can) before enjoying.

We have a winner!!

Thanks to everyone who entered the cookbook giveaway sponsored by groovy product recommendation site Snubbr.com!

The contest closed on midnight Friday night (or Saturday morning??), and I used that oh-so-handy Random Number Generator to select the winner from all the entries.

Huge congratulations to Marthe from the food blog Culinary Delights. She won her choice of a cookbook. Marthe, please send along your cookbook choice and mailing address as soon as you get a chance!

To the rest of you, thanks so much for the fab book recommendations. I have a list a mile long that I now need to check out. (I think that Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights is first on my list!). And don't worry if you didn't win this time, because I have lots more giveaways coming up in the coming months.

Thanks again to Snubbr for providing such an awesome giveaway and prize. Be sure to check out their website!

Back soon with another delicious recipe...

xoxo

Alejandra

Winners, Links, and Wrap-Ups

I'd like to give a big thank you to all of you who came out on Wednesday night for the bake-off event. We tasted some incredible treats (I've linked some of the recipes below for you as these things were A-mazing! Katy and Jen: I couldn't find links to yours, please share if you can!). The winners of the night were Jen from Local Appetite NY with her delicious (and beautiful!) seasonal strawberry cheesecakes, and Esther Chai, whose chocolate chip cookie won the audience vote.

I'm also still daydreaming about Katy's rich mocha brownies, that delicious salty-sweet butterscotch sauce on Emily's Not Yo Mama's Chocolate Chip Cookie, and the amazing filling inside Anna's perfect little salted cashew turtle cupcakes (Anna, if you're reading, can I just have a bucket of that filling? Cause that would be awesome...)

I also had a blast yesterday morning at TECHmunch food blogger conference here in NY. I moderated a panel called "Building Community and Gaining Momentum" featuring the bloggers behind This is Why You're Fat, Urlesque, and Fancy Fast Food. We talked about the tools that help us build and maintain a community beyond the site.

There was also a wacky Microsoft party, and (highlight!) a delicious dinner party at a new friend's beautiful home. She made a seasonal vegetarian spread that was as wonderful as it was beautiful.

I haven't done weekend links in a while, but as this week was a particularly busy one, it seems like the perfect time to bring it back. I love sharing the things that have caught my eye or inspired me. And I'll be back next week with more recipes and ideas.

(Needless to say, I'm sleepy and will be spending the weekend lazy-ing about. What do you have planned?)


********************************

Florida's fishing community after the spill
.

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Homemade yogurt in a Crock-Pot
!!

Pretty farmers market cards

Ruffled yellow dresses


Lovely blue things


The Barstool Romantic

Handpainted porcelain charms

Best Desserts is Tomorrow!!


Hello lovely readers!

Just a reminder today about the Best Desserts charity food blogger bake-off that I'm co-hosting with The LAMP tomorrow night. The event is from 7PM to 9PM at Double Windsor bar in Brooklyn.

Tickets are just $20 (in advance; $25 at the door if you procrastinate) and get you entrance to the event, entry into all the raffles, exclusive drink specials, and--wait for it!--a tasting plate of all the delicious desserts! Check out the list below so you can see for yourself what delicious treats you'll be partaking of.

And for all you Throwdown/Chopped/Top Chef fans out there: this is YOUR chance to play snooty food judge! In addition to the winner selected by the panel of foodie-celeb judges, we are also opening up the vote to all the attendees who will get to taste and vote for their audience favorite.

So come to support The LAMP. Come to cheer on your favorite blogger. Come to eat delicious desserts!

Buy your ticket here (tax deductible and full amount goes to support The LAMP's programs in underserved NY communities).

What: Best Desserts: A Benefit for The LAMP
When: Wednesday, June 9 from 7PM – 9PM
Where: Double Windsor Bar, 210 Prospect Park W. at 16th Street, Brooklyn
Admission: $20 at http://www.nycharities.org/events/EventLevels.aspx?ETID=1837 or $25 at the door (price tax deductible and all proceeds benefit http://thelampnyc.org)

Admission gets you entrance to the event, a tasting plate of all the competing desserts (details below!), exclusive drink specials, automatic entry into the raffles featuring prizes from Flip Video, Whisk, Bowery Kitchen, The Hip Hostess, and many more!

Bloggers (and their competing dishes that you’ll get to taste!!) featured are:

Mocha Brownies by Katy Atlas of Sugarlaws
Seasonal strawberry cheesecake by Jen Bernstein of Local Appetite NY
Chocolate chip cookies by Esther Chai of AmbitiousDelicious(ness)
Salty butterscotch chocolate chip cookies by Emily Hanhan from (non) adventures of an amateur
Salted turtle cashew cupcakes by Anna Markow of Very Small Anna
Asian rice crispy treats by Rachel Mount from Best Part of the Day

Judges are:

Chef James Briscione: 2-time Food Network Chopped! Champion and cookbook author (also major hottie, just sayin’)
Giulia Melucci: Author of I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti
Divya Gugnani: Behind the Burner host & NBC personality

DC Vito, the executive director of The LAMP, and I will be the MCs for the night.


Hope to see you there!

xoxo

Giveaway: Win a Cookbook of Your Choice!


It’s Friday! How about a fun little giveaway to celebrate the weekend?

The nice folks at Snubbr, a website that provides all kinds of product recommendations from experts, have offered to provide one of my readers with a cookbook of his or her choice. If you win, you’ll be able to select a book from one of the baking cookbooks recommended on this Snubbr page, or pick any cookbook of your choice from Amazon (just has to be $30 or less).

Cool deal, right?

You have until Midnight EST, June 11th to enter. I’ll then use Random Number Generator to select a winner.

To enter, just answer ONE of these questions in the Comments below this post:

What is your current favorite cookbook? OR What cookbook would you pick if you win?

Extra Entries: If you’d like to increase your chances of winning, please leave a separate comment for each of the following extra entry options:

  • Post this contest on YOUR Facebook wall with a link to this post, and leave a comment here letting me know you did.
  • Tweet the giveaway with a link to this post (please include your Twitter username in the comment).

So there you go! Up to SIX chances to win a free cookbook.

Good luck!!

Xoxo

Alejandra

P.S. Please note that the prize can be shipped within the continental US only, although if you live elsewhere and have a friend or family member in the 48 contiguous states who would be willing to accept the prize on your behalf, that works too!

Bagged Lunch Ideas: Lemon Chicken Salad Sandwiches


My cravings for cool salads continue as the temperatures hold steady at "decidedly hot." This chicken salad is a favorite of mine that I've been making since I was in college. I got the idea from the lunch place I used to frequent during my first internship. A tart and creamy salad with sliced nuts, dried fruit, and fresh diced apples, it was delicious on the buttery croissants they used to serve it on.

As much as I love croissants, I've since replaced them with a slightly heartier cranberry walnut bread, which stands up better to the creamy salad and makes it perfect for a bagged lunch or picnic. The combination of sweet and tart is what makes this one work, so don't shy away from the addition of apples and lemon; I promise it works! The Greek yogurt in the dressing also lightens it up a bit, but if you prefer, you can use sour cream or a bit of buttermilk instead.

I love this with a generous handful of watercress tucked in (or my favorite Upland Cress!), but of course it's optional. If you prefer, you can also eat this as an entree over a bed of greens (I served it this way at one of my recent brunch parties and it was a hit).


Lemon Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Makes 6 large sandwiches (salad can also be served as an entree over greens)

Ingredients
1.5 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (you can also substitute cooked roast chicken or turkey)
Ground black pepper
Sea Salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken broth.
2 cloves garlic, smashed

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt (such as Oikos or Fage)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 whole lemon
1 teaspoon oregano
2 Granny Smith apples, cored but not peeled, diced into 1/4" cubes
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup cranberries (optional)

To serve: watercress, sliced cranberry walnut bread

1. Season the chicken breasts on both sides with ground black pepper and sea salt. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken breasts and sear on both sides (2 minutes each). Pour in the chicken broth and garlic cloves, and bring to a simmer. Let the chicken simmer until it is cooked through (about 10 minutes). Remove the chicken from the heat and let cool on a plate.

2. In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, plus a 1/2 teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper. Whisk well and fold in the diced apples, minced shallots, sliced almonds, and cranberries (if using).

3. Cut the cooled chicken into cubes (or use a fork to shred, if you prefer), and add to the dressing. Toss well and taste for seasoning. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour (up to 24).

4. To serve, make sandwiches using sliced cranberry walnut (or other desired) bread. Top each with a small handful of watercress. Serve immediately or wrap in parchment paper and serve for lunch.

Our Retro Engagement Photo Shoot

retro engagement photo Alejandra Ramos
Eugene and I had our engagement photo shoot on Saturday. My amazing (and amazingly talented) friend Monica Navarro was the photographer, and we're blown away by the incredible job that she did. The photos aren't quite ready for showtime yet as they still need to be edited, but I have absolutely zero patience and couldn't wait any longer to share a few of them with you.

You know I'm wild about all things vintage, so I wanted to photos to have a 1940s feel to them. Though Eugene drew the line at wearing suspenders, I think he looks quite dapper in his new gray summer suit.

I did my own hair and make-up (I've been doing my hair this way since high school when I somehow convinced my two best friends to be "1940s girls" with me for Halloween), and wore a fascinator Eugene got me at the 9th Ave Street Fair a couple weeks ago.

The restaurant photos in this series were all taken at Son Cubano, a wonderful Cuban restaurant in the Meatpacking district that I highly recommend. As soon as we saw the place we knew it would be perfect for the photos (with that 1940s Havana feel) so we ordered some food and pulled out the camera. We never quite explained what we were doing, but the waiters and hostess were all very gracious in letting us take as many pictures as we wanted. I'm so happy about this, because these photos ended up being my favorite of the day.

I hope you enjoy!

xo

Alejandra Ramos1940s style engagement photo
Alejandra Ramos retro 1940s photoshoot
retro engagement photos
retro engagement photos
Alejandra Ramos 1940s engagement photo

Photography: Monica Navarro, Iloveparentheses.com
Hair & Make-Up: Alejandra Ramos
Dress: StopStaring! (Purchased from Modcloth.com)
Eugene's Suit: Banana Republic
Location: Son Cubano Restaurant; Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, New York, NY

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