Giveaway: Win a Kitchen Aid Mixer courtesy of Top Chef Just Desserts

About three years ago, I was wandering around the Time Warner Center during my lunch hour, wishing I didn't have to go back to the office, when I spotted something truly wonderful.

This guy.

He was standing just a few feet away from me in a crisp chef coat, looking like he'd just walked off a movie set: sleeves rolled up with tattoos peeking out just so, lush jet black hair swept up and high like a modern-day Elvis.  He had come up the escalator and was standing in the middle of the mall chatting with another chef. I froze and did my best to casually walk to a railing a few feet away, where I proceeded to pull out my cell and pretend to check messages.

When I got back to the office, nobody knew what the hell I was talking about.

"You guys! JOHNNY IUZZINI! Jean Georges' pastry chef?"

Finally I just showed them a picture.

"This guy, who not only looks like this, but also makes dessert for a living."

That got them.

I thought about my (pastry) brush with fame again this week when I was contacted by the folks at Bravo in conjunction with the premiere of the 2nd season of Top Chef Just Desserts, the sweet Top Chef pastry competition which features one Johnny Iuzzini as head judge.

As part of the celebration around the premiere, Bravo offered me a very sweet gift: they wanted to send me a little kitchen karma in the form of the pictured candy blue Kitchen Aid mixer and cupcake kit filled with hundreds of cute cupcake liners and toppers--to keep.

And I was all like "Woah?! For me?! Awesome!"

I gotta admit...I was totally tempted. I mean, I already have a Kitchen Aid mixer that I use on a near-daily basis, but the idea of having two of these babies sitting side by side on my counter whirring away was pretty exciting.

Until I did a reality check.

I don't need two mixers. (Though you can't blame me for daydreaming!) So I told the Bravo lady that I'd like to give the mixer away to one of you guys if they'd handle shipping. Which they happily said they would...and so here it is!

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post telling me what your top dessert is. (Whether that's your top dessert to make or simply just to eat.) Contest open once posted until 5pm EST on Monday, August 29. Contest is open to US residents only.

I will use random number generator to select one winner to get the grand prize of a Kitchen Aid Mixer. A 2nd place winner will win this really cool cupcake kit containing hundreds of cupcake liners and toppers. No purchase necessary to enter. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, August 30.

Want more chances to win? Of course you do!

You can earn additional entries by doing one (or all!) of the following for a total of up to 5 entries per person. (Note that you MUST leave a separate comment for each thing you do as I'll be counting the comments for the entries. If you group everything into one, you'll only get one entry):


1. Post this message on your Twitter account & then leave a comment here to say you did: "Win a Kitchen Aid Mixer from @nandita & @BravoTopChef #JustDesserts: http://bit.ly/q0LJIw"
2. "LIKE" the Always Order Dessert page on Facebook (http://facebook.com/alwaysorderdessert) and leave a comment here saying you did. (Also leave a comment on the Facebook page to say hello! ;)
3. Subscribe to my newsletter (on the right) and leave a comment saying you did. 
4. Post about this contest with a link to it on your Facebook page and leave a comment saying that you did.

So there you go! FIVE chances to win your very own Kitchen Aid Mixer. I also have an adorable cupcake kit

And be sure to tune in on Wednesday (8/24) at 10/9c for the premiere of Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2 on Bravo!

You Can Make That? Homemade Condiments & Other Treats

Looking for something different to do this weekend? Come to my brunch party & cooking class!

I'm hosting a fun cooking class/ brunch party tomorrow and I still have a few seats available. The topic is "homemade condiments."

I'm going to be leading hands-on lessons teaching all how to make homemade, from-scratch versions of a variety of grocery store pantry staples like Nutella, ketchup, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and more. Store bought versions of these products, while delicious, are often full of excessive sugar or salt, high fructose corn syrup, msg, preservatives, and lots of other unhealthy additives. Learning to make from-scratch versions at home will help you avoid those nasty hidden ingredients, not to mention help you save a lot of money!

Plus, there is definitely a brag factor in being able to say, "Yeah, I totally made that myself."

In addition to the class, I'm going to be serving a full brunch including various egg dishes, oven fried potatoes (for ketchup and mayo testing purposes!), freshly baked breads, fresh fruit, crudite, lemonade, and champagne cocktails.

I'm also providing little glass mason jars (heading to the store now to buy them!) so you can all take home some of the treats we make in class.

Click here to read more and register (tickets are limited and advanced registration is required): http://www.alejandraramos.com/2008/05/group-cooking-classes.html#condiments

15 Back to School Breakfast Ideas

A few days ago I got a message from a reader, Amber, who was looking for some healthy on-the-go breakfast ideas to serve her kids who are heading back to school this week. Though I don't yet have children of my own, the ideas came rolling out because, when it comes to simple, healthy meals, children really aren't that different from adults. The spices and portions may vary, but for the most part, these recipes will work just as well for adults as they will for the kids. 

Mornings can be crazy. Even with a lot of planning, that's just what happens when you have to get multiple people of different ages and personalities ready and off to different places in a short amount of time.  And because of that, I understand why the idea of skipping it, buying something at the drive-thru, or reaching for a box can seem appealing. Any additional thought or energy--even just a couple minutes--can seem impossible at that time. But it's important to recognize that those options will ultimately do more harm than good; processed options are loaded with sugar, sodium, unhealthy additives, and empty calories that won't do much to keep you (or the kids) functioning at your best. This is incredibly important if you're feeding children because while we may need the food for energy, they need it to continue the growing and developing process.

That's we're these recipes come in. Easy and totally from-scratch recipes, these recipes can all blissfully be prepared in advance--most in just a matter of minutes! Grab a few moments on a Sunday afternoon and prepare a couple of these options. You'll be set for breakfast for the week, saving you time and money.

Another idea? Whenever possible, be sure to get the kids involved in the planning and preparation of these dishes.  Not only is it great quality time, but getting kids in the kitchen early is the absolute best way to encourage a lifetime of healthy eating and cooking. Start them off with a few simple tasks--garnishing or washing vegetables, then increase the duties as their skill and interest develops. I still have very clear memories of making salad dressings as a little girl; my mom would tell me the basic proportions and then let me add whatever I wanted to the blender and often, the combinations where great. I once added a whole cucumber to a vinaigrette and we ended up with a wonderful cucumber dressing. I was probably about 6 when I came up with that and I have no doubt that those tiny first successes are what drove my current passion.

An added bonus for parents of picky eaters? Letting them help with the cooking will also make them more interested in the dishes--and consequently less likely to toss them away or turn them down come eating time.

Check out the 15 easy breakfast recipes below and be sure to share your own ideas in the comments! (Click each photo to read more & get the recipe.)

1. Breakfast Power Truffles

Shaped like little balls of candy, these homemade breakfast truffles pack tons of nutrition in an adorable little package.  Loaded with protein, fiber, dates, nuts, seeds, good fats, and tons of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, these no-cook treats will keep everyone fueled from the morning rush all the way through to lunch. These are made with peanut butter, but if your child is allergic or your school doesn't permit peanut butter on the premises, you can easily substitute sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) or almond butter instead.

Like all the best time-saving recipes, these power truffles can be made in advance and will keep well in the refrigerator for several weeks. You can even get the kids involved by asking them to help you shape and roll the truffles (it's like play-doh, but totally edible!). Grab a few in the morning or leave them out as a healthy afternoon snack. If you're looking for a homemade from-scratch alternative to processed protein or "nutrition" bars, these are a great option; grab a few on the way to the gym or toss some in your bag for recovery on the way home.

2. Mini Egg Muffins
This easy take on the classic frittata is made in muffin tins for instant portion control (and to make them easy for little hands to handle). Just as good cold as they are hot, these can be individually wrapped and grabbed out of the fridge while everyone is running out the door. My version is packed with diced zucchini, yellow squash, herbs, onions, grated cheese, turmeric, and just a tiny bit of chorizo for flavor, but you can customize these to your liking.

I've included the basic formula in the recipe and the rest is up to you--add leftover cooked chicken, diced ham, spinach, cherry tomatoes, anything you'd like! These cook up quickly and will keep well in the fridge all week long. Serve one or two for breakfast, or pair these with a salad for an easy and nutritious lunch. (These are also a great idea for those on low-carb eating plans!)

3. Homemade Yogurt Cups

There is no need to spend money on overpriced yogurt cups full of sugar and preservatives. (Not to mention the waste caused by tossing out those plastic cups each morning.) Customize your own to-go yogurt cups by layering plain yogurt in small mason jars.

Start by filling the bottom with plain yogurt (a thick Greek yogurt is a great option) then let kids pick out their favorite all-fruit preserves or honey. Add sliced almonds, shredded unsweetened coconut, cocoa nibs, or low-sugar granola, spices (like cinnamon or nutmeg) and seal up the jars. The lids will make everything stay put and can be resealed in case of leftovers. These can be made up to two days in advance, and letting kids participate in making them or adding the toppings is a great way to both spend time with them, and instilling good habits of cooking good, healthy food for themselves.

Bonus Ideas: Swap out the yogurt for cottage cheese or ricotta. Or make a savory version topped with slow-roasted tomatoes (like #4 on this list), herbs, or even a dollop of pesto and some crumbled bagel or tortilla chips for crunch. 

4. Homemade Chewy Granola Bars

Let's be honest, most commercially available granola bars are little more than glorified candy bars! Packed with sugar, fats, and tons of unhealthy additives, they're not anything you want to serve to growing and developing bodies (or, for that matter, already grown and developed ones!). Step away from the processed "treats" and prepare a batch of these chewy and easily customizable homemade granola bars.

Made with nuts, oats, seeds, raw honey, and lots of other good stuff, these are a great alternative that you can feel good about giving to your children (or eating yourself). These also work well as an after school snack and are great to keep in your purse or car for emergencies. These will keep well for at least a month; for ease, individually wrap them and keep in your fridge or an air-tight container at room temperature.

5. Tortilla EspaƱola Slices (Spanish Omelet)


This traditional Spanish egg and potato dish is a wonderful on-the-go breakfast idea because while it can be eaten hot, it's actually best served cold or at room temperature. The layers of potato, egg, and gently caramelized onions make it a firm and easy hand-held breakfast.

In my recipe, the skins are left on the potatoes before slicing; this increases the nutrients in the final dish. You can also add sauteed mushrooms, baby spinach, red peppers, or other vegetables you may have in your fridge. Let the dish cool completely overnight in the fridge, then slice into triangles or squares for easy grabbing in the morning. If you'd like, you can even tuck a pieces between two slices of hearty, whole-grain bread to keep active bodies fuel-packed throughout the morning. (If you use grocery store bread, take care to read the ingredient list carefully watching out for added high fructose corn syrup, sugar, or other unnecessary sweeteners or additives.)

6. Banana Breakfast Ice Cream

You might be wondering what ice cream is doing on this list of healthy breakfast ideas, but here's the secret: this is really just pureed fruit! Bananas, frozen and pureed, develop a wonderful creamy texture that is practically indistinguishable from ice cream!

With this in mind, I added peanut butter for protein and good fats (you can use sun butter or almond butter, if you prefer), plus some unsweetened cocoa powder (loaded with antioxidants), and just a touch of honey for sweetness (the ripe bananas are actually very sweet naturally so the honey just enhances that). Pureed together and then frozen over night, the result is a creamy, scoopable "ice cream" that's totally acceptable for breakfast! This may not be an everyday treat, but it would be especially good for one of those hot August or September mornings.

7. Egg Salad w/ Caramelized Shallots and Chives
Egg salad might not seem like a traditional breakfast idea, but it's actually a perfect solution. Best eaten cold and made in advance, you can prepare a large batch of it then serve it spread on toasted whole grain bread, on a whole wheat bagel, or in a small cup with a spoon for a to-go option.

This version adds a touch of natural sweetness with caramelized onions and smoked paprika, but feel free to keep your version plain. To lighten the dish, replace half the mayo in the recipe with plain Greek yogurt; it'll infuse a little extra protein and some healthy live active cultures into the mix.


8. Chocolate Banana Nut Smoothies

This is my own go-to breakfast on those busy weekday mornings, and it's one I know the kids will love. Creamy and thick, it's practically a milkshake, but made with almond milk, unsweetened cocoa, ripe bananas, and peanut butter, there is nothing but goodness in this class.

This is one smoothie that keeps very well for a few days so you can make a big batch and then portion out in individual to-go cups or even mason jars (just shake a few times and then unscrew the top for drinking; close it up again to prevent spills of leftovers once the kids get out of the car).

Want to up the health factor? Add some raw kale and/or spinach to the blender; the color and flavor will disappear, but the nutrients will remain. (Fun stripey straw is totally optional!)

9. Black Bean and Corn Breakfast Burritos
Scrambled eggs are quick, but in the mornings when time is tight even that might seem like too much. Skip the scramble with this easy make-ahead burrito featuring black beans, steamed corn, and cheese. The bean and corn filling can be prepared well in advance and rolled into whole wheat or corn tortillas the night before and wrapped in plastic wrap or parchment paper.

In the morning, pop them in the microwave for a few seconds to melt the cheese and you'll be ready to go with a filling and protein-rich breakfast that will satisfy lots of appetites. These are actually pretty good cold, if you'd like! (This recipe has a little bit of a kick, but if you or your children are sensitive to heat, just skip the jalapeno peppers and hot sauce; the flavor won't be affected.)

10. Whole Wheat Blueberry Almond Muffins

Muffins, even these yummy whole grain ones, aren't the best option for breakfast as protein really is key in the mornings, but if you're short on time or in the mood for a treat they can certainly be delicious! And when made with good flours, nuts, and lots of fruit, they're not too bad.

They're also a fun option on weekends or if you have company coming over. These are made with a mix of whole wheat flours and are loaded up with lots of fresh blueberries (frozen blueberries would also be great in these). Feel free to substitute raspberries, strawberries, or even cranberries if that's what you prefer! (The crunchy sugar and almond slices on top are key!)

Other easy breakfast ideas:

11. Use apple slices instead of bread to make peanut butter (or sun butter) sandwiches.
12. Baked oatmeal squares that can be made in advance and reheated just before serving (love this recipe)
13. Cold pancakes! (Make a few extra pancakes and freeze them; in the morning, drop into the toaster and serve wrapped in a napkin as you're running out the door.) This whole grain cinnamon pancake recipe is one of my favorite healthy versions and these buttermilk blueberry pancakes are a wonderful classic recipe.
14. Quick quesadillas: layer cheese and sliced ham, turkey, or chicken between two whole wheat or corn tortillas. Nuke in the microwave for 30 seconds, then cut into corners and serve. If you'd like, you can add a little bit of salsa between the tortillas.
15. Banana wraps! Spread peanut butter on a whole wheat tortilla and wrap it around a whole banana.


What do you think about these ideas? And what are your favorite on-the-go breakfasts? (For kids or grown-ups!) Tell me in the comments.




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And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!


Homemade Chewy Granola Bars with Hazelnuts & Chocolate

When it comes to granola bars, I am firmly in the chewy camp. I like them a little sticky and soft and packed with all sorts of sweet and good things.

These homemade chewy Granola bars came after multiple attempts to get the right texture. The first time I made them, I didn't put in enough honey and baked them too long, and they came out crisp. Eugene loved them. I mean he really loved them, but they were all wrong for what I wanted.

So I tried again with a recipe that just tasted weird. That batch sat on a tray on our dining table, completely ignored for about a week until I finally just had to throw them away. It hurt, but the challenge continued.



A third batch didn't stick together at all and I ended up with lovely granola clusters instead of a bar.

It wasn't until the fourth batch that I got what I wanted. Chewy and packed with awesome. What I love about these is the combination of hazelnuts and chocolate. Not too much chocolate, just a few chips per bar when you cut them, but just enough to pair with the hazelnut for a very subtle gianduja flavor (aka nutella). I added several kinds of nuts, seeds (including chia seeds--so good!) and a little bit of dried fruits. They remind me a little bit of KIND bars (another favorite around here), but a bit heartier.

I've been snacking on these nonstop, and Eugene was a fan, too, so I think we have a family winner.

For now, at least...


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer pantry and kitchen makeovers, custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!





Homemade Chewy Granola Bars with Hazelnuts & Chocolate

Print this Recipe

Ingredients
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 1/2 cups blanched hazelnuts
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup pepitas
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins
1/2 cup semisweet or dark chocolate chips
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or olive oil)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl (I use my electric mixer on the "stir" setting) combine the almonds, hazelnuts, oats, pepitas, chia seeds,  cranberries,  chocolate chips, and flax seeds. Stir until evenly distributed. Add the honey, almond extract, and coconut oil. Stir until all the dry ingredients are evenly coated.

Line a small baking sheet or rectangular baking pan with overhanging parchment paper. Spread the bar mixture and use your hands to press it down tightly and flat.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are slightly toasted. Remove from the oven and run a knife along all the sides to loosen. Let cool completely at room temperature, then unmold and cut into bars or squares. Wrap individually and store in an air-tight container or zipped bag in the fridge. Will keep well for at least one month. 


Mini Egg Muffins with Zucchini and Chorizo

These adorable little portable egg muffins take mere minutes to throw together and will last you through the week. Make a dozen or more of them and wrap individually. In the mornings, you can grab one or two as you head out the door. (These are wonderful cold, but if you prefer your eggs warm, you can pop them in the microwave for a few seconds to heat them up.)

Think of the recipe below as just a formula and feel free to improvise. Replace the chorizo with diced ham or leftover cooked chicken or turkey. Replace the vegetables with whatever is in season or on sale; add onions, garlic, chives, or scallions for more flavor. You can even add other spices and herbs to change the flavor. Use different kinds of cheese Experiment with things like chili powder, cayenne, smoked paprika, curry, or Asian five spice to come up with new combinations.


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer pantry and kitchen makeovers, custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!

Mini Egg Muffins with Zucchini and Chorizo
Servings: 6

Print this Recipe

Ingredients
10 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground turmeric (optional, but adds great flavor, color, and health benefits)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 cup diced fully cooked chorizo sausage (you can substitute: diced cooked ham, chicken, turkey, shrimp, or other protein)
2 cups raw zucchini, diced into 1/2" pieces (you can substitute an equal amount or mix of another vegetable such as squash, spinach, mushrooms, sweet potato, tomatoes, peas, carrots, kale, potato, etc.)
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped (you can also use chives, scallions, cilantro, tarragon, or other herbs)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (you can substitute any other cheese you'd like)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a muffin tin with olive oil or spray well with oil spray. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, black pepper, and turmeric until well combined and light and frothy (about 1 minute). Set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the diced onion and saute just until soft, about 2 minutes. Add the chorizo and zuccini and saute for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley. Let the vegetable mixture cool for 1 minute before adding to the eggs. Stir to distribute and add the grated cheese.

Use a ladle to scoop the egg mixture into the muffin cups until each reaches almost to the top. Place in the oven and bake for about 12-15 minutes or until the muffins puff up high and are fully set in the center. Remove from the oven and run a butter knife around each muffin then remove and let cool completely on a plate. Serve immediately or if using later, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to one week. (These can also be frozen for longer storage.)

Can be eaten cold, at room temperature, or reheated in a microwave.





DIY Yogurt Cups

This isn't really a recipe. It's an idea. It's a very good idea.

I've recently started making my own homemade yogurt cups. I take a small mason jar and fill it about 3/4 of the way with thick, whole, plain Greek yogurt. I use Fage. It's my favorite and I've tried the other brands of "greek-style yogurt" but for some reason, they just don't measure up. But if you have another favorite brand of plain yogurt, then by all means do that.



I then add a couple spoonfuls of all-fruit preserves or homemade jam. Not too much; I just want to add a touch of sweetness. My current favorite is plum; I got a jar of homemade plum jam on my trip to Vermont last month and I'm in love. I can't wait until prune plum season as I want to make myself a huge batch of it.

I top it all off with sliced almonds (though any nuts will do). Sometimes I add a bit of unsweetened shredded coconut, too. Then I close the jar and pop it in the fridge.

That's all! A homemade yogurt cup, ready to go! Fruit on the top, not on the bottom, and so much better. Leftovers can be easily stored (not as easy when I have leftovers in one of those Fage single cups), and I save money by buying the large container of yogurt, then portioning it out into smaller servings.



By the way, when it comes to dairy, it's full-fat or nothing for me. None of this skim or light or 2% nonsense. Not only is it more satisfying, but the fat in the milk is where the majority of the nutrients reside (this is a fact). Skim and other light dairy products are so devoid of nutrients that the FDA actually requires dairies to add synthetic vitamins A and D to make up for what is lost when the fat is removed. I'll take the natural God-given nutrients over anything cooked up in a lab, please!


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Breakfast Power Truffles

I came up with the idea to make these little breakfast truffles this past weekend when my husband, his brother, and two of our friends (male, naturally) participated in a muddy obstacle course testosterone* fest known as the "Warrior Dash." He and his friends had been training for it all summer and then early on Sunday morning he put on some incredibly tight athletic clothing and drove to upstate New York. He got home about 12 hours later smelling a little stinky but happy as a clam with stories of leaping over fire and swimming through mud under barbed wire and giant turkey legs. There was even a mangy looking hat that reminded me of the ones worn by members of the Loyal Order of the Water Buffalo.

But I digress! The day before the event, Eugene ran out to the store to buy what he called "provisions"; this included water, a sweat band for his head, and (gasp!) a little bottle of something called "5-Hour Energy."

"WHAT?!?!?!" I shouted, when he told me he'd bought it. "THAT'S A LITTLE BOTTLE OF PROCESSED POISON!" I added, shaking in semi-mock horror.

"I need it for energy," he explained, somewhat sheepish at this point.

"It's like you don't even read my blog," I replied, sadly walking away.



Completely horrified by all this I declared that I would be waking up with him at 6:30 in order to prepare a proper breakfast and some homemade energy bars containing REAL food that would give him energy for much longer than just five hours. I didn't even have a recipe to use, just a mission.

The next morning I rose with him and got to work at my food processor, tossing in dates, ground coconut flour, nuts, chia seeds, pepitas, coconut oil, natural peanut butter, cocoa nibs, oats, and some raw honey. I processed everything until it formed a mass and then I rolled them into little balls. I also made him a breakfast burrito of eggs scrambled with vegetables and a little chorizo, topped off with Greek yogurt, on a whole grain tortilla. Throughout all this, he kept telling me to go back to bed and insisting that he didn't need anything or would "just have a banana."

Despite his protestations, I sent him off with his bag of homemade energy balls and the burrito, satisfied that even if he did end up sneaking the liquid inside that nasty little bottle, there would at least be some good wholesome real food in there to hopefully counteract it.

The balls ended up being a success (naturally), and he and the guys finished the entire bag. I ended up making a second batch and they're sitting in the fridge right now, just perfect for a quick dose of protein in the morning or for the next time he comes home from the gym in scavenger mode.

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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!
 


Breakfast Power Truffles

Print this Recipe
Ingredients
1/2 cup almonds
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 cup cocoa nibs (or substitute 1/2 cup cocoa powder)
1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or, if you can get it, Celtic sea salt would be great too!)
1/2 cup ground coconut flour or unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup natural creamy peanut butter 
1 cup dates (look for moist, plump dates like Medjool or California; can substitute dried apricots or figs rehydrated in 1/2 cup hot water)
3 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
Additional coconut flour for rolling (optional)


Directions
Combine the almonds, oats, chia seeds, cocoa nibs, and pepitas in your food processor and process until finely ground. Add the kosher salt and coconut flour and pulse again to combine. Add the peanut butter, dates, and honey and process until combined (it will likely form one big clump; that's good; if it's too wet, add more coconut flour.

One you have a thick paste, dump it onto a baking tray and use your hands to roll it into round balls, about 2 tablespoons each. If desired, roll each truffle in coconut flour. Chill for 1 hour before transferring to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator (can also be frozen). Will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.





*There are actually women who participate in this too, but it's obviously a very dude-centric event.

Chimichurri Fish Tacos

Fish tacos have become a weeknight dinner mainstay in our home this year. Eugene and I feasted on them near-daily during our honeymoon this past January, and I came back home to New York craving that absolutely perfect combination of fresh flavors, smoky and spicy toppings, and crisp morsels of flavorful fish. Simultaneously light and filling, they have the added bonus of being incredibly quick and easy to prepare.

Even better? As long as you stick with local, fresh ingredients, they are also an incredibly affordable option (making the weekly indulgent downright smart!).

I've taught a few different fish taco recipes in my cooking classes, but this chimichurri variation is my new favorite!

I start by making a very simple chimichurri sauce packed with fresh parsley, cilantro (not traditional, but I love the freshness), garlic, vinegar, chili flakes, and lime. Everything is blitzed together in the food processor or blender and is ready in less than a minute. 

Then I take fresh white fish (whatever is on sale--I've used everything from pollack to mahi mahi), cut it into small pieces, and dust it in a seasoned flour mixture.

I use smoked paprika and turmeric to give both gorgeous color and a smoked, almost sweet, flavor. In addition to giving the final dish that gorgeous golden hue, turmeric is also one of the best spices there is in terms of nutritional value (Dr. Oz is a huge proponent of it for its known anti-inflammatory properties).


These are lightly pan-fried in a little bit of hot oil for just a minute or so on each side until cooked through and flaky. (Btw, you could stop at this step and you would have homemade fish sticks. Cool, right?) I then break them up into smaller pieces, pile them into a bowl, and that's basically it!

Warm up tortillas--I love soft corn, but flour, whole wheat, sprouted grain, will all work too--and place a few toppings on the table. Instead of sour cream, I recommend using a tangy Greek-style yogurt and some diced avocados, but you can really add whatever you want based on your tastes or what's on sale at the store. To be honest, the chimichurri sauce adds so much flavor that you really don't need much else for a satisfying dish!


This is the kind of weeknight dinner recipe that comes together in minutes, but which you can really feel good about. It's fast and convenient, yes, but it's also fresh and good for you. Pile on fresh vegetable toppings or swap out grilled shrimp or chicken for the fish.  Eat it for lunch, serve it to your family, or invite friends over and make it for a crowd. I've made this for everyone from my students to my husband to my parents and have never had a single person not be thrilled with it.

Note: This homemade chimichurri sauce will keep well in the fridge for at least a week. I recommend storing it in a clean jam jar or a sealed mason jar; no need to "can" it, but do make sure it's sealed up nice and tight. If you'd like, you can also freeze it for later use.

This sauce is a fantastic marinade or topping for chicken, pork chops, skirt steak (really, any kind of steak), grilled vegetables, baked potatoes, rice, or even pasta. You can use it as a sandwich spread (whisk it with some mayo or yogurt to tone it down), and I sometimes even toast baguette halves and spread it with the sauce as a Latin take on garlic bread.


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!

Chimichurri Fish Tacos
Serves 4-6 as a main course. 


Print this Recipe

Ingredients
For the fish:
1 1/2 lbs firm white fish (such as pollock, mahi mahi, tilapia, cod, halibut, etc.)
3/4 cup all purpose or whole wheat flour
1 rounded tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grapeseed, olive, coconut, or vegetable oil for frying

For the chimichurri:
1 cup fresh parsley with only the bottom two inches of stems removed (about 1/2 average sized bunch)
1 cup fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 rounded tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons apple cider (or other mild) vinegar
Juice of 1 whole lime
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for topping off

For serving:
Soft corn or flour tortillas
Plain Greek-style yogurt (preferably full fat)
Fresh cilantro, diced avocados, lime wedges 


Directions
Prepare the chimichurri:
Combine the parsley, cilantro, and garlic in the base of a food processor and pulse repeatedly until coarsely chopped. Add the paprika, red pepper, vinegar, kosher salt, black pepper, and pulse again until evenly distributed.

Transfer the ingredients to a medium sized bowl and add the cup of olive oil. Stir until everything is evenly distributed. Taste and adjust seasoning (remember that this is meant to be used a marinade or condiment sauce so it should have a strong flavor).

Transfer to a clean glass jar or other air-tight container and top off with olive oil so that the oil covers it completely (this will keep it from turning brown). Either use immediately or store in the refrigerator. Will keep well for around one week (often longer). This sauce can also be frozen.

Prepare the fish:
Rinse the fish in cold water, then pat dry with paper towels. Cut into 2-3 inch pieces.

In a shallow bowl, whisk together the flour, smoked paprika, turmeric, cayenne, salt, and pepper until evenly combined. Take each piece of fish and dredge in the flour mixture.

Coat the bottom of a large skillet with oil and heat over medium-high heat. Fry the coated fish in batches in the hot oil, taking care not to crowd the pan, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Place the fried pieces on a paper towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle with Kosher salt. 

Assemble the tacos: Warm tortillas on both sides of a frying pan or over a flame. Top each tortilla with a scoop of Greek yogurt then 2-3 tablespoons of the chimichurri sauce (stir before scooping it out to distribute the oil). Add one or two pieces of fish and garnish with fresh cilantro and avocado, if desired.

Serve immediately with lime wedges.





Meatless Monday Cooking Class!

Nearly the weekend already! Amazing!

Just wanted to pop in and invite you all to my next NY cooking class. I'm going to be hosting a Meatless Monday cooking class in midtown Manhattan on Monday (August 8, starting at 7PM) with an entirely vegetarian menu. This is a little bit unusual for me because I am by NO means a vegetarian, but I do enjoy occasional meatless dishes (especially in the summer when the veggie bounty is so wonderful) and so I decided to take on the challenge of designing a meatless menu that would still appeal to carnivores.

Here's what I have planned:

Chipotle Mushroom Tacos--these are so good! I actually made these for Eugene recently and he asked me if it was beef or venison sausage (that latter which I brought home from my trip to Vermont). He was totally shocked when I told him that they were completely vegetarian. The secret ingredient that makes them so good? You'll have to sign up to find out... ;)

Seasonal Vegetable Ravioli in Brown Butter Sauce
--learn my trick for quick, homemade ravioli (no pasta machine required!) and an easy filling that can be made with any number of seasonal veggies. This is one recipe that can get you through the whole year and is amazing for dinner parties. Plus, brown butter...need I say more?

Roasted Tomato Quinoa--If you're not already quinoa obsessed, you're about to be. This ridiculously easy dish works as both a side or a main coarse salad. Loaded up with roasted, peak-of-the-season tomatoes and packed with protein, this is about as good as it gets.

Pan-Seared Halloumi--Two words for you here: Fried. Cheese. (Fried Cheese!)

Arugula and Mango Salad, Citrus Dressing--This sweet and spicy and tart salad is incredible. (And we're going to top it off with the aforementioned fried cheese.)

Crisp Fingerling Potatoes with "Merguez" Yogurt Dip--Forget french fries--these crisp potatoes are amazing on their own, but wait until you add the "Merquez" dip. Merquez is a type of incredible spicy Moroccan sausage, but I've veg'd it up by grabbing all those incredible spices and flavors that make Merquez so freaking good, and turning them into a dip. Genius!

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake--the quintessential summer cake made with fresh berries, local buttermilk, and a crackly sugar top. The perfect way to end a meal.

Does this all sound amazing to you? (That's a rhetorical question because I know that it does.) Come join me and the rest of the class on Monday night while we prepare these incredible dishes together and then sit down for a feast!

Click here to sign up!

See you there!

xoxo

Alejandra

Blueberry & Cream Cookies

These cookies are my take on the uber-popular Blueberry and Cream Cookies served at Momofuku Milk Bar here in New York. I should start this off with a disclaimer saying that I actually haven't been to Milk Bar yet (I know. Shocking.).

That said, just because I haven't been, doesn't mean I haven't heard and read and seen a lot of people raving about these cookies.  I finally decided to give them a shot, following the recipe in Bon Appetit, and they were pretty great, even though I'm fairly certain the Bon Appetit recipe isn't accurate because it doesn't include any white chocolate when the cookies at the restaurant clearly indicate the presence of white chocolate.



I decided to use the B.A. Milk Bar recipe as inspiration for my own version, using fresh blueberries (because it's summer and they are much more delicious and cheaper than dry ones) and a crunchy almond crumble (because blueberries and almonds are brilliant together!) and adding white chocolate. I also switched up the recipe a bit. The results were pretty delicious and I basically spent a week eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Please excuse the somewhat out-of-focus photos; my camera needs to be sent to Nikon spa for some rest and rejuvenation, but just trust me when I say that these are a-mazing.



Note: If you don't like or have almonds, you can swap out other ground nuts, but I think the almond does work especially well. I also recommend using good white chocolate, which is made with cocoa butter. There are lots of fake white chocolates out there (usually sold as "white chips" or "almond bark" or "vanilla flavored coating") which are made with vegetable oil and other nasty additives. Go for the good stuff!


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!

 

Blueberry, White Chocolate, and Almond Crumble Cookies
inspired by Christina Tosi's Blueberry and Cream Cookies via Bon Appetit. Makes 12-24 cookies, depending on size.

Print this Recipe
Ingredients
For the almond crumbles:
1/2 cup almond meal or finely ground almonds
1/2 cup dry milk powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 rounded teaspoon Kosher salt
3/4 stick unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

For the cookies:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon Kosher salt + more for sprinkling on top
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
2 large eggs, room temperature
3 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
2 cups fresh blueberries

Directions
First make the crumbles:
Combine the almond meal, milk powder, flour, brown sugar, salt, and cold butter, using a pastry cutter or your hands to squeeze the mixture until it looks like coarse crumbs (you may need to add a bit more flour or butter to get the right texture). Set aside.
Make the cookies:
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, kosher salt in a bowl and set aside. 
In the base of your mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, vanilla, and almond, followed by the eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture, stirring just until well combined. Mix in the white chocolate. 
Use a spatula to mix in the blueberries and then delicately fold in the almond crumbles. Cover bowl tightly and place in the refrigerator. Let chill for at least 2 hours and up to 72 hours

When ready to bake. Preheat to the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Use a cookie scoop or spoon to place rounded scoops of dough 1 1/2 - 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes or until golden around the edges and just set in the middle. Let cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes then use a spatula to transfer to a cooling rack.

A Weekend in Vermont

Before this trip, I'd never been to Vermont or really knew much about it beyond maple syrup and cheddar cheese.

The trip I won (and actually, all the retreats hosted at Good Commons) included round-trip transportation from New York on a lovely and relatively comfortable jitney called The Good Bus.* The bus picked me and the rest of the group up in midtown on Thursday evening, and we settled in for the 5-6 hour voyage (including one stop somewhere in upstate New York). The talented GC resident chef, Matthew Wexler (who has is own blog) was on board and he fed us well! On the trip up we enjoyed banh mi sandwiches, black bean dip and chips, fresh fruit, peanut butter cookies, and sparkling water.

We arrived in Vermont after midnight at which point we sleepily made our way to our bedrooms. All the bedrooms are shared and there is a really charming (and lower-priced) sleeping loft which sleeps multiple people. I got one of the shared bedrooms (my roommate with a really cool woman named Connie) with access to a really fantastic steam shower.

Our first day started off with a hearty breakfast of homemade scones, fresh fruit, a couple baked egg dishes, salad, and a few other treats, all prepared by Chef Matt and served family style on a long wooden table.

We then headed off on our first excursion: a charcuterie demo and tasting at a very cool local restaurant called The Downtown Grocery. Owned by a really charming (and really good-looking) couple, Abby and Rogan, the restaurant is known for their in-house charcuterie and classic-with-a-twist dishes made using local ingredients. A lot of the dishes have a little bit of southern flair in honor of Abby, who is originally from Mississippi, with the accent and sweet southern personality to match!




When we arrived, Abby welcomed us with kir royale cocktails made with local cassis (I later picked up a bottle of it to bring home at the wine shop across the street).

We sipped our cocktails while Rogan showed use how he makes a variety of incredible sausages, from nduja (my new obsession) to fennel salami to pancetta. Abby then brought around platters of the meats for us to taste (along with some bread and local cheese). My favorite was definitely the nduja, which was seasoned with orange zest and smoked Spanish paprika, followed closely by the crisp and peppery pancetta.

We then headed out to a shop across to a wine and cheese shop across the street where I got a few kinds of local cheeses (I'm still enjoying these) and some wine to enjoy with dinner during the weekend.

We returned to the house for a bread-shaping workshop led by a local baker. She walked us through the steps of shaping rolls, baguettes, and a few other types of bread. Come dinner time, we all pitched in assembly-line style to prepare the dinner of fish en papillote (parchment paper pockets) with leeks, lemon confit, mushrooms, and a few other goodies.

The night ended with a really fantastic chocolate tasting and workshop led by Heather Terry, the co-owner of NibMor chocolates. We tasted about a dozen different kinds of chocolates (from different brands) as she walked us through the various characteristics of each. We learned about the different flavor characteristics and profiles of each bean, and she told us all about her experience in creating the company, which essentially started with a bit of experimentation in her own NYC kitchen. She are her business partner Jennifer are seriously cool ladies and I absolutely loved being able to listen to and learn from them. (Their chocolate is pretty great, too!)

(Well, actually, my night ended with a 90-minute massage just before bed. I think more places need to offer late night massages.)

The next morning we woke up to a continental breakfast spread to be followed by a brunch a few hours later. I took advantage of both. After breakfast there was a pilates class led by the lovely Meg Zirm and then we all piled back into the bus for a trip to a nearby jersey cow dairy farm, Jersey Girls Dairy.

We took a quick tour around the farm where the cows, heifers, and chickens are pastured and grass-fed. The best part was getting to pet and admire the cute little baby cows. I think I took about 50 photos of the baby cows alone--how adorable are they?

The dairy is permitted to sell up to 40 gallons of raw milk a day and a lot of local neighbors have containers that they regularly get filled up. The dairy shop operates on an honor system, with a price list, a money box, and a fridge. The customer comes, grabs what he or she wants out of the fridge and then leaves the money in the locked wooden box. So simple and perfect.

(For more about why raw milk is the best, check out this post I wrote not long ago. And if you're interested in a raw milk source in the NYC/NJ area that delivers (!!), shoot me an email and I'll hook you up.)

After the farm, we headed out to a nearby co-op called WAAWWE (We Are All What We Eat), where the dairy and a lot of other producers sell their produce, eggs, cheese, meats, baked goods, honey, maple syrup, and a lot of other local goodies. I stocked up on treats, bringing home some goat's milk caramel, venison sausage, more cheese, some Vermont maple soda, and some cookies for the road.

Outside the co-op there is a small lunch truck and I ordered an incredible lamb burger made with local lamb, a very soft freshly baked bun, pickled onions, local feta, and a local yogurt dressing. This thing was absolutely amazing; as was the mere fact of sitting at a little table overlooking miles of green in every direction. Heaven.


Our next stop was the Green Mountain Sugar House for one of the local specialties--maple creemees; a soft-serve ice cream sweetened and flavored with maple syrup. The flavor of this was fantastic, but I've just never been a fan of soft-serve or those Styrofoam-like cones it comes in; I'd love to make a regular ice cream version using maple syrup as the primary flavor.

The shop itself was also pretty fantastic--I got off line about 7 times because each time someone would get in line behind me holding something I hadn't seen, I had to go and get it. From this shop I brought home 2 packages of maple bacon, some maple candy, peanut maple brittle, Lake Champlain chocolates, a hand lotion made from local honey, and some more cheese. 

Our next workshop was the chocolate smoothie workshop, also led by Heather of NibMor chocolate (I mentioned this in my spicy chocolate smoothie post last week). We learned all about coconut palm sugar production and got some great ideas for homemade chocolate drinks (like that spicy smoothie version I pulled together).

After the workshop, a few of us headed out to the gorgeous hot tub in the backyard where we talked entrepreneurship and came up with a pretty cool idea that I can't wait to share with you guys in the coming months (it's going to be AWESOME!). I followed this up with a shower, nap, and some corn shucking.

Dinner that night was a feast of tacos, carne asada, cous cous salad, and some truly incredible beans. We then headed out back to the firepit for s'mores, which I followed up with another 90-minute pre-bed massage.

The next morning, Meg led a yoga class and then we feasted on a wonderful brunch/lunch of salmon with curried pesto (hello...AMAZING. I need to start adding curry to my pesto from here on out), salad, rolls, and an incredible egg + mushroom + onion + tarragon frittata. (Incidentally, I always forget how fantastic tarragon can be. I added some to my shopping list when I got back and have been eating eggs scrambled with mushrooms, onions, and tarragon ever since!)

It was, obviously, an amazing weekend and I am now 100% completely in love with Vermont (and Good Commons). I can't wait for my next trip up!

Good Commons hosts pretty incredible weekend retreats like this all year long so check out their calendar for current offerings. (They actually have a Food, Wine, and Rejuvenation weekend scheduled for labor day and still have a few spots left. I'm going to just be getting back from my friend's wedding in Europe so I won't be able to go, but I definitely recommend it if you're looking for an unforgettable weekend away.)


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New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my RSS feed, follow me on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates by filling in your address in the box on the right. I also offer custom menu planning services, group cooking classes, and offer a variety of culinary workshops in the NYC area. Click here to find out more!

And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to
e-mail me.
Thanks for reading!

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