Fresh Fruit Chocolate Bar

I once read that you should always keep a notebook and pen near your bed. The idea being that when you wake up with an idea or a worry in the middle of the night, you can simply jot it down, putting the idea or worry to rest on the nightstand until you wake in the morning with the energy to take action.

Awesome advice that I RARELY follow. But the other night, as I slowly drifted into that foggy twilight before sleep, I had an idea that I didn't want to forget. Without a notebook, I sent myself an email.

All it said was "fruit chocolate bar idea."

Subject line: Genius

(Ever modest. I know.)

The idea was simple: to make a homemade chocolate bar filled with surprising bits of fresh fruit throughout. Pretty apt subject line, I'd say!

I love chocolate-covered fruit in the summer. It's the perfect sweet ending to a meal and doesn't require that you turn on the oven or even the stove to prepare. I love that burst of bright fresh fruit beneath the thin shell of bittersweet chocolate. I regularly dip strawberries and blueberries in chocolate and leave them chilling in the fridge for a quick dessert I also love to freeze chocolate covered banana slices. This was a way to wrap all of that into one delicious chocolate bar!

To make the bars, I started off by prepping the fruit. I cut a banana and a few strawberries into thin slices--about 1/4" thick. I then divided the raspberries into three pieces, which would flatten nicely. The blackberries I essentially cored, slicing them delicately along the center to make a few flat pieces. A bit finicky, but quick and necessary in order to keep the chocolate bar at a relatively normal thickness.

I used bittersweet chocolate, which I melted in the microwave until smooth. It took two cups of chocolate chips (1 normal size bag) to make 4 bars. As my mold, I used mini-loaf pans (specifically, this mini loaf pan). They're about 2" by 4", and the perfect size for a chocolate bar. You can also just use one large loaf pan to make a giant bar or use a muffin tin for round ones.

I used foil, which I sprayed with a bit of oil, to line the pan, letting it overhang so that it would be easy to pull the bars out once set. If you use a muffin pan, just use cupcake liners.

Spread a thin layer of the chocolate--about 1/2 inch--and then arrange the fruit closely together. Top it off with another tin layer of chocolate, spreading it to make sure it's all covered. I like to wrap the pan against the table a few times so it all settles smoothly. To set, just pop in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Run a warm knife along the edges and then lift the bars up. Peel the foil off and serve! These will keep best in the fridge for up to 24 hours--any longer than that and it really depends on the fruit you used as the moisture will start to seep out a bit. I think it would be fun to serve a few of these at a party, letting folks bite into them for the surprise.

What fruit do you love most dipped in chocolate?

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Fresh Fruit Chocolate Bar Recipe
Makes 4 chocolate bars

1/2 banana
4 large strawberries
10 other berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries) or other ripe fruit
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips

Equipment: mini loaf pan, foil, cooking spray

Prepare the fruit, slicing the banana and strawberries into thin 1/4" slices. Slice the raspberries and blackberries into 1/4" slices. Cut blueberries in half.

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time, until smooth and completely melted.

Line the loaf pan with strips of foil so that it overhangs on each side. Spritz with a bit of cooking spray so that it peels off easily.

Spread a thin 1/2" layer of chocolate in the bottom of each well. Arrange the prepared fruit closely together. Top off with another thin layer of chocolate. Tap the pan against the table so that everything settles and to get rid of any air bubbles. Add additional chocolate on any parts where fruit peeks out.

Place in refrigerator and let chill 30 minutes or until chocolate is completely set. Use a warm knife to loosen the edges and then lift out of the mold. Peel off the foil and serve immediately or store in fridge wrapped in foil up to 24 hours.


My 10 Favorite Food Films (with accompanying recipes!)

I wanted to watch a movie today, but my wifi wasn't working well so I decided to instead use this time to share with you 10 of my favorite food-related films, along with a recipe suggestion for you to make along with it!

1. Chocolat
Chocolate, Johnny Depp, and France. Do we really need to get into this further? Juliette Binoche's character opens up a chocolate shop and slowly loosens up the uptight residents of the small village with her decadent treats. I actually haven't seen this one in years, but I need to again. It's absolutely stunning. I saw it with my mom, and I remember that immediately afterwards, she went home and made herself hot cocoa with a dash of cayenne. Don't attempt to watch without a good chocolate bar or box of truffles within easy reach!

Recipe Suggestion: Beet Chocolate Bundt Cake with Dark Chocolate Ganache Glaze-- this rich dark chocolate cake has just a little touch of mystery to it that will enchant all who taste it. (You don't have to reveal the secret ingredient; I promise they won't be able to tell!)

2. Sabrina

Food is by no means the focus of this movie, but I have to include it because I think of it every single time I crack an egg. One Two Three CRACK!

In the movie, Sabrina (played lovely Audrey Hepburn) goes off to Paris to attend Le Cordon Bleu and forget the handsome wealthy playboy David. There are some delightful cooking school scenes (she learns the proper way to crack an egg). She comes back to America a few years later, sophisticated and mature. Romance, stunning ball gowns, and Humphrey Bogart, ensue. This movie was later remade with Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond, but they cut out all the fun culinary school bits so make sure you get the Audrey Hepburn version!

Recipe Suggestion: I was going to suggest a souffle, but really I think this movie is best with a cocktail (or several). Make a batch of these Gin & Honey-Soaked Mandarin Champagne or Pomegrante Rose Champagne Cocktails to sip on while watching Audrey at her loveliest. 

3. Tortilla Soup
This delightful movie starring Hector Elizondo (I love him. LOVE him.) as a cranky-yet-lovable chef and father of three daughters with different personalities, dreams, and problems, is actually a Mexican-American remake of an Asian film called Eat Drink Man Woman. Most people consider the original one to be best, but I actually don't like it at all. Why? Mostly because I don't like Chinese food so the food scenes in the original did nothing for me. I'd MUCH rather eat (and watch!) Mexican food. You'll need some homemade tortilla chips and fresh salsa to snack on while watching this one!

Recipe Suggestion: Homemade Tortilla Chips with Black Bean, Corn & Red Pepper Salsa
or Easy Restaurant Style Blender Salsa. Nothing like salty chips and good homemade salsa. A few beers or a crisp, cold wine are also advised!

4. Christmas in Connecticut
A classic! Barbara Stanwyck is a food writer who presents herself in her writing to be a skilled, perfect homemaker, wife, and mother. The truth is that she can barely boil water, doesn't have a child, and isn't even married! All is well until her boss invites himself over to her house along with a returning war hero, expecting the perfect Christmas Dinner. Hilarity, romance, and 1940s fashion ensue!

Recipe Suggestion: Pomegranate-Braised Baby-Back Ribs and Parsnip Carrot Puree -- a hearty meal to enjoy while watching this winter-time story. (And if you need dessert, Sticky Toffee Pudding will do the trick!)

5. Heartburn
I mentioned this movie in my post about Nora Ephron a couple weeks ago, and definitely had to include it here. In this movie, loosely based on Nora Ephron's real-life marriage to Carl Bernstein, Meryl Streep stars as a cookbook author who cooks her way through her romance with a dashing, but  philandering journalist, played by Jack Nicholson.  There are a few brilliant scenes, especially as the marriage starts to crumble, but my favorite is at the end involving a key lime pie. I won't say more as I don't want to spoil it for you, but it's absolutely fantastic! I'm also obsessed with the Carly Simon soundtrack, and the original novel features recipes, which you should try.

Recipe Suggestion: Green Pasta Carbonara (make it with spaghetti, and serve it in a big shared bowl)

6. Woman on Top
Penelope Cruz plays a successful Brazilian chef with a terrible motion sickness problem, which means that she can only handle motion if she is in control. When driving, and...also in bed. This causes problems with her macho husband, who cheats on her in order to assert his masculinity, so she leaves and goes to the US where she starts teaching cooking classes and is soon given her own food TV show. Her husband follows her to find her and she has to decide between her new Hollywood life, and her restaurant back in Brazil.

Recipe Suggestion: Pan-Seared Shrimp with Mango Cucumber & Peppadew Salsa -- Fresh, colorful, spicy and Latin--just like the movie!

7. Five Senses
I love movies with multiple interconnecting story lines, and this is one of my favorites. In Five Senses, Mary Louise Parker plays a pastry chef who makes stunning cakes that don't taste good. She goes to Italy on vacation and meets a sexy Italian chef who comes back to America with her. He barely speaks English, but they communicate through food. There are other story lines, each featuring different senses, and they all weave together beautifully.

Recipe Suggestion: Orechiette alla Norcina--this luscious bowl of creamy and spicy pasta is one of my favorites! Another one that's perfect for sharing.

8. Waitress
I am not a big fan of pie (I prefer cake!), but after watching this movie, all I wanted to do was head to the nearest diner and order a slice of their best pie. In this movie, Keri Russell invents new pies each day, naming them after the various troubles going on in her life. (Example pie names: "BABY SCREAMING IT’S HEAD OFF IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND RUINING MY LIFE PIE," "FALLIN’ IN LOVE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PIE," "BE KIND TO YOURSELF ALWAYS PIE.")

Recipe Suggestion: Banoffee Pie --bananas, toffee, chocolate, and whipped cream in a shortbread crust. Pie heaven!

9. Simply Irresistible
This is one of those kind of cheesy, but kind of amazing romantic comedies, with just enough magical realism tossed in to make it interesting. Sarah Michelle Geller plays a woman who inherits her mother's restaurant, even though she can't cook. She tries to save it anyway, and after a meeting with mysterious stranger, suddenly becomes an incredible chef who transmits whatever she's feeling into her food (yes, it's reminiscent of Like Water for Chocolate). There is a romance with a department store executive who falls for her, but then gets freaked out because he thinks she is a witch. Lots of great food scenes (especially some amazing looking cream puffs!).

Recipe Suggestion:  Vanilla Bean & Anise Poached Pears -- This movie features one incredible dessert after another, poached pears being one of the specialties. I recommend serving these with a homemade caramel sauce.

10. Big Night
Primo and Secondo are immigrant Italian brothers whose restaurant is about to go under. In order to save it, they plan an elaborate feast in honor of the singer Louis Prima, who is coming to town. One stunning dish after another is prepared (like the glorious timbale pictured above), but it's perhaps the simple omelet eaten in the silent restaurant kitchen at the end of the film that is the most memorable of all.

Recipe Suggestion: Pizzagaina-- this totally over-the-top Italian meat pie is made with a pizza dough crust and stuffed with pounds of Italian charcuterie, cheese, and eggs.  Perfect for feeding a crowd (and it freezes really well if you have leftovers!).

Have you seen any of the films of this list? Did I leave out any of your favorites?

Coconut Oil Winner & Other Goodies

I loved reading about all your favorite coconut treats! It's given me some great ideas for upcoming posts, so stay tuned!

I just selected the winner (randomly with the assistance of RANDOM.ORG) and the winner is:

Comment #82 -- Nathalie from the blog Creative Clay Cooking who wrote (I just had to share this!):

"I made an incredible banana bread with coconut oil and coconut flakes with fresh off the stalk  bananas from my Aunt's garden.  So incredible.  My other favorite coconut oil treat... dare I say... coconut oil is a luscious and fabulous love oil... can not recommend it highly enough... a little love desert after the desert, eh! Haven't tried this yet but I know it will be killer....coconut oil fried sweet potato chips."

That's actually the THIRD person to mention that coconut oil is a great "love oil." you know! ;)

Another cool thing I learned from another reader is the following from blogger Auria of Auria's Malaysian Kitchen

"In Malay (the main language spoken in Malaysia),  the word for coconut is "kelapa".  And if you say that in a sort of colloquial, slang-y way,  it's pronounced "kelapo".

So that explains the cool name!

If you didn't win, but would still like to try out the awesome Kelapo coconut oil (for cooking or otherwise!), you can enter the code DESSERT20 at checkout on their website for 20% off. This is valid through August 31.

(NOTE: I am NOT being compensated for this post. I did get a free bottle to try and loved it so much I asked to give one away and to get a discount for you. I don't get anything if you use the code; just wanted to share it with you as I really did love this brand, and think you will, too!)

Thank you all for entering! Stay tuned as I'll be giving away more fun stuff, soon!


Giveaway: Win a Jar of Kelapo Coconut Oil

Kids, I have a new favorite thing. And that new favorite thing is this ridiculously good coconut oil from a company called Kelapo. This is good stuff.

I've been using coconut oil for years. I cook with it and bake with it, and I keep jars in my bedroom and bathroom to use in my hair and on my skin. I eat spoonfuls of it for energy and to cut sweet cravings. I even wash my face with it!

Eugene thinks it's kind of (coco)nuts. "You always smell like a macaroon," he says.

Like that's a bad thing? No, sir, it is not. Coconut oil is one of the healthiest substances in THE WORLD.

Anyway, until this week, I wasn't particularly loyal about my coconut oil brands. I had a kind of main standby that I used, but I'd generally just pick up whatever organic unrefined virgin jar I saw.

And then I received an email from a lovely lady at Kelapo offering me a jar of their extra virgin coconut oil to try. "Sure!" I said, thinking it would just be some more awesome coconut oil, but nothing special.

The mailman arrived with the package just as I was heading for the shower so I decided to open it up and put some in my hair as a deep conditioner. I opened up the jar and promptly freaked out. It was the most delicious smelling coconut oil I had ever smelled. It smelled sweet and nutty--like a coconut cream pie. And the taste? It tastes like coconut sorbet. Or maybe an Almond Joy. Or the aforementioned macaroon.

Seriously, if you like coconut, you are going to LOVE this stuff. I have no idea what it is that they do to get such great flavor, but whatever it is, it's awesome. I'm already going to be ordering myself a large container of it.

Want to try it? You're in luck!

Leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite coconut treat (yes, pina coladas count!). One winner will be randomly selected to win a 14oz jar of Kelapo coconut oil. 

Entries must be in by 5pm EST on July 25th. You must include a valid email with your entry to win (so I can contact you!). US residents only, please.

Can't wait? I also got them to give me a special discount code. Hop on over to their site and enter the code DESSERT20 at checkout to save 20% off your order.

They also have a great site filled with coconut oil recipes, if you're looking for some fun ideas!

Good luck! I'm off to go make something delicious!

Like this post? Share it with a friend on Facebook or Pinterest so that more folks can see it. I'd also love if you'd consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading & sharing!

Kitchen Beauty: DIY Peppermint Foot Scrub

I find that in the summer, a good foot scrub is of the essence. I tend to spend most of my days barefoot (I work from home, so it's totally OK), or occasionally slide into cute, but totally unsubstantial flip-flops or sparkly flats, which do nothing for my feet while I traipse around the city.

In fact, the other day I realized that my feet had been stained a slight shade of navy blue from my flip-flops.

I had smurf feet!

A scrub was definitely in order.

This scrub takes just a few minutes to put together, and is fantastic for tired and rough summer feet (dyed blue from flip-flops or otherwise). The kosher salt and baking soda are great for scrubbing off dead skin (baking soda also acts as a natural deodorizer), the oil moisturizes and softens, and the peppermint extract adds lovely scent and just a hint of that tingly, refreshing feeling.

Loved this post? Here are a few other DIY gift ideas you might like:

And let's connect so you can find out the next time I post! Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates.

Thanks so much for reading!

DIY Peppermint Foot Scrub Recipe

1/4 cup course kosher salt (you can also use granulated sugar)
1/3 cup oil (I like grapeseed or almond, olive or coconut oil also work very well)
2 tablespoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract

Whisk together all ingredients and pour into a glass jar with a lid. Store in a cool, dry place.

To use: place a few tablespoons of the mixture into your hand, and massage into your feet, concentrating on the heel and other rough areas. Rinse under warm water to remove the salt, but not the oil. Gently pat dry.

Kitchen Tip: How to Serve Salmon

I had to meet one of my editors in midtown a couple weeks ago. After the meeting, I found myself wandering around some shops and then decided to take myself out for an impromptu solo dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.

It was a lovely sort of evening, and I left the meal with a few recipe ideas and a tip that I hadn't thought of before. Here's the tip:

Serve salmon skin-side up. 

It seems pretty basic, but what I love about it is that it celebrates the skin, which is THE healthiest part of the salmon. All those good Omega 3s? Yeah...they live in the skin. And yet, when the salmon is served skin-side down, I find that most people tend to just eat the meat and leave the skin like it's some kind of inedible wrapper.

Such a waste!

So next time, try plating your salmon with the skin up! Cooked until very crisp (here's how) and sprinkled with a bit of good sea salt, it's absolutely stunning.

Let me know if you try it!

Like this post? Share it with a friend on Facebook or Pinterest so that more folks can see it. I'd also love if you'd consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading & sharing!    

My Experience on Food Network Star

Ed Levine, over on Serious Eats, posted today about his experience as a judge on Food Network Star. Nothing against Mr. Levine (who I think is awesome), but I found the post a bit blah and didn't think that he really shared much about his experience at all.

It made me realize that I never really told you much about my own experience as a taster/audience judge on Food Network Star! I'm sorry about that, my lovelies! The episode I was on has long since aired (it was the 2nd episode in the season), so I figured it's cool for me to share some fun bits with you on this lovely summer Friday.

Disclaimer: I have no idea who won the competition, so don't ask me. (I didn't even know who won the episode I was on until I watched it on TV).

2nd Disclaimer: That episode was actually the only one that I watched this season, though I do keep up with the eliminations via Aarti's blog on the Food Network website.

The Episode: I participated in the "Bus Tour" episode, which had the contestants host a kind of edible tour of New York City for a group of "tourists." I was one of these "tourists." The bus took us through three NYC neighborhoods: The Lower East Side (Jewish food), Harlem (soul food and bbq), and Arthur Avenue (Italian). Each team was responsible for presenting a tour of one of the neighborhoods and serving us dishes that they created inspired by the local food scene.

How I Got on the Show: I am very much interested in a future career in TV, so my headshots and resume are on file with various casting agencies here in NY and in LA.  I'm also signed up to receive casting notices, which I review and submit to daily. I heard about another casting where they wanted folks to come in and be part of the crowd at an event where the contestants were going to be cooking (a kind of food festival), and thought it just sounded like a fun thing to do, so I sent in my info. The casting agent saw my resume and photos, and called to ask if I would actually be interested in "a more intimate opportunity with a lot of screen time." I said hell yes, and so that's how that happened.

The Bus: Was freaking awesome! I've never seen a bus like that. First of all, it was enormous; whenever we drove by the regular NYC city buses, they only came up about halfway up the side of our bus (meaning from my seat I could look down onto the roof of the NYC bus).

The inside was designed with theater seating consisting of two tiered rows of seats facing a gigantic glass window. The back half of the bus was curtained off for the crew. There were about 14 "tourists" on the bus, along with Bobby, Giada, Alton, Bob Tuschman, and Susie Fogelsang, and the crew, which consisted of about 3 or 4 shooters, 2 or 3 producers, and then a whole bunch of audio and other production people who were squashed into that back section of the bus. We also had a few SUVs with additional crew following us around, and advance crews waiting at every stop we made. And the contestants, of course, who were rotated in as teams in each neighborhood.

The Celebs: I didn't really get to interact personally with Bobby, Giada, or Alton, though the people sitting next to them did get to chat a bit. I will say that from spending the day with them on this bus, I did get a pretty good feel for their personalities. Bobby was by far my favorite. Of the three, he was the nicest and most down-to-earth. He laughed a lot, and was the one who chatted with folks the most. I also really loved that he would regularly offer to do things like grab a sandwich or a coffee for members of the crew. Alton was just as quirky in person as you might imagine. He had this very cool little retro-style camera with him and kept taking pictures of things. He's definitely got the southern gentleman thing down; whenever I or any other woman would pass by him, he would stand and say "Ma'am." And he has a surprisingly risque sense of humor, which I quite liked! I can see how he would make for a really great mentor.

I did really like those chips!
Random behind the scenes facts:

1. All the food we tasted was cold or lukewarm. We were told in advance to not judge anything on temperature or on texture that is affected by temperature (for example, cheese that congeals a bit or whipped cream that melts, etc.). This is how it actually is on most food-based reality shows. I thought that was interesting as I'd previously always wondered how food is kept hot. Answer: it's not.

2. Making TV means long hours: My call time that morning was at 7am at a studio down in Williamsburg (which meant I was up at 4:30AM). I didn't get home until nearly 10pm.

3. Most of that time is spent waiting around in overly-air conditioned locations--kept cold for the equipment and to compensate for the lights. My trick? I had little hand warmer packets that I kept tucked under my skirt and in my bra to stay warm.

4. Making TV also means that various men will have their hands down your dress and in your bra every couple hours to adjust your microphone or change the battery. You get used to it.

5. The worst thing I tasted that day was the Passover meatloaf thing that Emily made and that weird pickle slaw that Judson made. The meatloaf was awful, and made me want to gag. Most of the people on the bus didn't like it and sent it back almost whole, though I do remember that Bob was a fan of it. The slaw was just incredibly boring and made no sense.

5. The best things I ate were Justin's smoked creme fraiche dip with bialy chips (as pictured above), Malcolm's ribs and rice, and Eric's incredible dessert empanada. Seriously good stuff.

6. When I saw the show later, I was truly shocked that Giada's team won that episode because having tasted and experienced it all in person, I felt that Bobby's was by far the best in terms of both presentation and food. I found Giada's team to be pretty boring. I mean, Yvan (who is adorable in person and asked me if I thought he did OK when he sat down) served us a mozzarella ball on a stick with a cherry tomato and a piece of basil. And that Josh guy who told the 72-minute long Robert DeNiro story (which was edited down for the show, but was seriously endless in real life and made me want to defenestrate myself) served a piece of sausage on bread.

7. I was chatting with Judson at one point, and he told me that they were all on a crazy schedule. They don't tell them what they're doing or what time they'll have to get up the next day. (I remember Aarti said something similar in her interview with Joy the Baker some time ago.) That day they had only gotten about 4 hours of sleep! (Yet they all looked great!)

7. Overall, Justin was my favorite for his combo of personality + food, and was the one I voted for. I also kind of got in trouble at one point for chatting with him between takes (we were then told not to interact with the contestants. Whoops!)

8. And yes, Justin's lips really are that bright pink in real life. And no, he does not wear lipstick!

10. On the way back to the studios after the tour, our ridiculous giant bus nearly got stuck under an overpass, so we had to back up and drive about 2 miles BACKWARDS and against traffic on highway until we reached the previous exit. It was all kinds of hysterical. Once we survived that, the producers (who were all really cool) hopped off the bus and bought donuts and beer for everyone.

11. Oh and Susie Fogelson is GORGEOUS in person. She looks great on camera, but even more amazing in real life. Seriously stunning woman.

So serious! I was probably concentrating hard so as to not freeze to death.

Like this post? Share it with a friend on Facebook or Pinterest so that more folks can see it. I'd also love if you'd consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading & sharing!


Chilled Fresh Pea Soup with Crab & Guacamole Salad

I've never really been a huge fan of chilled soups. I can't stand gazpacho, which always surprises people for some reason (it always just tastes like salsa to me!), and I prefer my vichyssoise hot.

Which is why it was weird that I ordered a chilled pea soup as my starter at dinner at the North Fork Table & Inn last week.

I had read a lot of amazing things about North Fork Table & Inn, and when Eugene arranged a little last-minute escape to the North Fork for the 4th of July, it was at the top of my list of places I wanted to try. We went there for dinner on Monday night, and it was my favorite meal the entire trip.  We chose the pre-fixe three-course menu (it's either that or a tasting menu, but I preferred the options on the pre-fixe menu). For some reason, the soup jumped out at me, and I ordered it, hoping that I wouldn't regret my decision.

I didn't. It was incredible.

The soup was ice cold and sweet, and a gorgeous shade of green that I want to paint on my walls, but it was really the garnishes in the center that made it for me. Oh man do I love garnishes!

Jumbo lump crab and diced avocados with sliced radishes floating in that silky, spring-like broth. The only thing wrong with it is that they were pretty skimpy with the garnishes.

So, as I'm wont to do, I got home and remade the soup, tripling the garnishes and piling them into a delicious little heap of crab salad set in the center of a delicately flavored soup--perfect for this ridiculous hot weather we've been having.

I should note that the soup can be a bit fussy to make. It's not hard at all--ridiculously easy, actually--but there are a few steps. It cooks up quickly, but then you have to puree and strain and then chill over an ice bath. And then when you serve a bowl to your husband, he's going to eat it in about 4 minutes flat, and you're going to be all like "WHAT THE HECK!?! THAT TOOK ME ALL MORNING!"

OK, maybe that's just me.

But seriously, if you're organized though, it'll go quickly and the results will be super worth it. The leftovers keep well for a few days, so make a large batch and keep it in the fridge for a quick lunch over the next few days.

This is also SO great for a dinner party because then you can do the fancy restaurant thing where you serve the guest the bowl with the garnish in the center and then dramatically pour the soup in around it.

So fancy!  They'll LOVE it!

And yes, the crab and avocado salad is awesome on its own, too. And it's ready in, like, 3 minutes so... do as you please.

Like this post? Share it with a friend on Facebook or Pinterest so that more folks can see it. I'd also love if you'd consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading & sharing!

Chilled Fresh Pea Soup with Crab & Guacamole Salad Recipe
Serves 4

Extra virgin olive oil
3 leeks, tough green parts removed, rinsed well, and tender white and green parts thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, crushed
3 celery ribs, sliced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (homemade if you've got it!)
4 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 pound sugar snap peas
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the salad
1/4 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound pasteurized crab meat (use jumbo lump if you're feeling fancy or regular claw meat for a more affordable option
2 ripe avocados

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and add the leeks, garlic, and celery ribs. Saute until tender but not colored, about 5 minutes. Pour in the chicken broth and let simmer 15 minutes until all vegetables are very tender.

While the vegetables simmer, prepare an ice bath by placing a large bowl in a roasting pan and filling the pan with ice and water.

Add the peas and sugar snaps to the soup, and let simmer 3-5 minutes until tender, but still bright green. Immediately remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice, and puree using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. Pour the soup through a mesh strainer into the ice bath and stir to chill. Transfer the soup in batches to the ice bath and stir to chill. Stir in the heavy cream. Taste and season with kosher salt and black pepper as desired (remember that the savory crab salad will add a lot of flavor so you may prefer to keep the soup a little on the blander side).

Can be prepared up to 48 hours in advance (store in an air-tight container in the fridge and stir before serving.)

Prepare the crab salad just before serving:

Whisk together the cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, and kosher salt. Gently toss with the crab meat. Dice the avocado and delicately fold into the crab salad.

To serve: divide the crab salad and pile into the center of a shallow bowl. Pour the soup around the salad and serve. (You can also serve the soup in a small container along with the plate and let each guest pour it for himself at the table.)


Eating in Bed

Confession time: Do you ever eat in bed?

During the weekdays, I admit to eating at least one meal a day in bed. If Eugene is working late or out with friends, that number sometimes jumps to two.

It's a habit I developed in college, I think. My freshman year there wasn't a dining table or sofa in my dorm room so I ate my homemade meals sitting on my bed. When I moved into my first apartment in DC after getting back from Italy, I would regularly just eat on my bed rather than sit at the dining table alone. The pattern continued, and I've never really thought much of it.

Perhaps it's just a necessity born of small living spaces? 

I usually stick to easy things like sandwiches, wraps, or scrambled eggs. I also like fruit or veggie sticks for snacking. Sometimes I'll eat last night's leftovers--a piece of grilled chicken or some salmon on top of an arugula or watercress salad. Nothing potentially messy like soup, though I did once eat a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs while sitting cross-legged on my bed and paging through a magazine.

It was awesome.

In the winter, I love a hot mug of milky tea and cake.

My absolute summer favorite? Chocolate ice cream, eaten under the covers with a fork and a book in an air conditioned room. Pure heaven!

Bonus points if it's an air conditioned hotel room!

(I've never eaten a bowl of strawberries and red bell peppers like Ms. Jolie up there. That's just weird.)

I also love to eat room service meals on my bed while watching TV.

Anyway, I've never thought there was anything wrong with eating in bed, although I remember back when I was working at the magazine there was once a photo of a girl eating breakfast in bed and my coworker remarked that she would be horrified if her husband brought her breakfast in bed.

"I don't want food near my bed! That's gross!"

I kept my naughty habit to myself, though I wholeheartedly disagreed. But now I wonder, am I alone in this? What do you think about eating in (or on) your bed? Is it gross? Is it decadent?


Inspired Living: Chilled Vinho Verde for Summer Sipping

From about late March through early October, I always make sure to keep a couple bottles of Vinho Verde in my fridge. Vinho Verde or "Green Wine,"  is a young, crisp Portuguese wine with fairly low alcohol content. The green is really a reference to the young age of the wine (usually about 1 year or younger), but I've found that some of the wines actually do have a very very slight green tint to them.

As I was putting my groceries away yesterday, I figured I should share this gem with you guys, because it's such a great casual wine. A "porch pounder," if you will. I love it because it's such an easy drinking wine. Especially during the hot summer months, when I just want a glass or two of something crisp with just a tiny kick. 

I personally can't stand any kind of beer, so this is what I reach for when Eugene grabs a cold one for himself. It's not a sparkling wine, but it does have just the tiniest bit of effervescence to it that feels light and refreshing on the tongue. I find that it's really lovely with seafood, which we eat near-daily in the summer, or with salty chips and guacamole. Honestly, it's great with all things salty or spicy, which is perfect for me since those are my favorite!

And the best part? It's so cheap! My favorite kind is called Ouro Verde, and I buy it through Fresh Direct for about $6 a bottle, but you can find different kinds in the $5-$12 range just about anywhere. I usually buy about 1 or 2 bottles a week and pop them straight in the fridge. The cap on this one is a twist-top, so it's also a great low-key bottle to bring along on a picnic or to the beach without having to bother with a wine opener.

If you're looking for a fun summer drink, definitely give this one a try!

Wine glass photo by Paul Blakeman/Flickr

Like this post? Share it with a friend on Facebook or Pinterest so that more folks can see it. I'd also love if you'd consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading & sharing!


Kitchen Beauty: DIY Lemongrass Sugar Scrub

A few weeks ago, I bought a brand new jar of a lemongrass sugar scrub that I really loved. It was made by a small company with all natural ingredients, and smelled absolutely amazing. It was a little on the pricey side, but given that it was a small business, I was happy to support it.

I got the jar home, drew myself a bath, got in, and proceeded to spill the entire contents of the jar into the tub! Whoosh! Just like that, my entire $14 scrub--which I'd meant to stretch out for a couple months--was gone.

During that incredibly fragrant bath, I decided that I would simply have to make my own DIY lemongrass sugar scrub. I've actually been making DIY sugar scrubs since I was a kid; my mom used to use a combination of sugar and baby oil in the shower all the time and so I learned from her and did the same. I no longer use baby oil as it isn't safe (it's made primarily from mineral oil, which inhibits the body's ability to release toxins and which leaches away fat-soluble vitamins from your body), but I regularly scrub myself with coconut oil mixed with granulated sugar or coffee grounds, which leaves my skin incredibly soft and moisturized.

I went to Whole Foods that same evening and bought the supplies to make my own scrub. Pretty much all the ingredients are things you can find in a regular grocery store if you don't already have them in your pantry. The essential oil is available at Whole Foods, health food stores, and some well-stocked pharmacies.

The Oil: I used grapeseed and almond oil as the base of my scrub. You can also use coconut oil or olive oil, if you prefer, though the latter two have a stronger scent that will compete with the lemongrass fragrance. If you want something that feels less "oily," try using glycerin as part of your base.

The Sugar: I use raw turbinado sugar (aka "Sugar in the Raw"), which is a little rougher and great for scrubbing. If your skin is more delicate, just use regular granulated sugar. Scroll down for the recipe below!

Tip: Look for the almond and grapeseed oil in the food section of the grocery store. They'll also sell it with the health/beauty products, but it will be triple the price!

Loved this post? Here are a few other DIY gift ideas you might like:

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Thanks so much for reading!

DIY Lemongrass Sugar Scrub
Makes 1 pint

1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 cup almond oil
15 drops lemongrass essential oil (or use more or less according to your preferences)
1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar (sugar in the raw)

Material: 1 wide-mouth pint-size mason jar

Whisk together grapeseed oil, almond oil, and lemongrass essential oil. Pour into a clean mason jar with a lid. Add sugar and stir to combine. Seal with lid and store in a cool dry place.

To use: Use a scoop or spoon to scoop out scrub as needed and massage into your skin in the shower. Particularly great for legs, hands, and feet. Rinse off with warm water.


Happy 4th of July!

We're still in the North Fork and will be spending the day wine tasting, farm stand shopping, lavender picking (!!!), and exploring. Enjoy your day!

P.S. Click HERE to get the recipe for the blueberry buttermilk cake pictured above.


Kitchen Tip: How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." - Groucho Marx

Fruit flies thrive in the summer when the heat causes fruit and vegetables to ripen and spoil quickly on the counter. Below are some of the best ways to quickly get rid of fruit flies.

1. Store onions and shallots in the refrigerator. The natural sugars and powerful scent of the onion is like a sweet siren song for fruit flies. Potatoes and onions can also be problematic; pop those in the fridge, too.

2. Once a week, empty out your fruit/vegetable baskets, and rinse and wipe them down with warm water and a little dish soap before filling them up again.

3. Check your fruit daily, and put any very-ripe fruits of fruits with gashes or soft bruises in the fridge. 

4. Make a homemade fruit fly trap by leaving a cup or wine glass filled with about 2 inches of red or white wine in it near the fruit basket. The flies will be drawn to the sweet smell, fly or crawl in, drown, and die a boozy death. You can also use vinegar with a slice of ripe/rotting banana or peach in it, but I honestly find that wine works best.

5. Keep a small fan in the kitchen (I have one on top of my fridge). If the flies start buzzing around (fruit flies or really any kind of winged flying creature), turn it on. Flies are very weak, and even the slightest breeze from a fan can knock them off course and send them away. This is also a great tip if you're trying to keep the larger flies from bothering you outdoors. Plug in a few fans and it'll keep the bugs away better than any citronella candle ever could. 

Bonus Tip: Remember that garbage cans, wet sponges, and damp mops can also be breeding grounds for fruit flies. Take out the trash regularly, spraying and wiping the can down about once a week. Swap out sponges regularly (or keep them clean and dry by washing them in the dishwasher along with your dishes and letting dry in the sung). Wring mops out well and let dry in the sun before storing. 

This has nothing to do with fruit flies. I just like it.

Kitchen Tip: How to Boil Water Faster

photo by Luigi Anzivino, via Flickr
1. Use a wider, shallower pot rather than a tall and narrow one. The increased surface area will let the water heat up more quickly. A thinner pot will also boil quicker than a very thick one.

2. Start with hot water. Fill your pot with hot tap water, rather than cold. It'll give you a jump start and get you to the boiling stage about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes quicker, depending on the amount of water in your pot. NOTE: this is not recommended in homes with older pipes as the hot water can leach lead and other funky stuff into the water. Use your judgement.

3. Only use the amount of water that you really need. If you're just boiling a couple eggs or potatoes, there is no need to use a large stockpot. Many vegetables are actually better steamed with just an inch or two of water in the pan, rather than a full boil.

4. Cover your pot. This traps the heat and speeds up the process. Just use a plate if the pot you're using doesn't have a lid.

Bonus Tip! Reuse your boiled water--blanch some veggies in the pasta water after you've fished out the pasta, or hard boil a few eggs for tomorrow's breakfast. You've already used up the water and the energy, you might as well take advantage!

Like this post? Share it with a friend on Facebook or Pinterest so that more folks can see it. I'd also love if you'd consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading & sharing!   

Lavender Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Don't say it!

I already know.

My blog has been all like "Lavender! Blueberries! Lavender! Blueberries" for the past two weeks.

Well, get used to it because this trend is only going to continue since I'm going to a lavender farm tomorrow (or possibly today...we'll see).

By the time you read this (assuming that time will be around 10ish AM), Eugene and I will be in the car, well on our way to the North Fork for a few days. That's Long Island wine (and lavender!) country, folks! They have beaches and wineries and little shops. We're staying at a bed & breakfast located a 3-minute walk from a lavender farm where they let you wander around the lavender fields for 30 minutes if you buy something in their store. Sounds like a good deal to me!

Also, there's going to be a giant claw foot soaking tub in our room. We had our choice of rooms, and I chose the room with the claw foot tub.

I packed bubble bath.

I'll be sure to share all the fun stuff with you upon my return. Or you can follow along on Twitter and Facebook!

For now, I recommend you try these cookies. They're a classic kind of chocolate chip cookie--chewy on the inside, crisp on the outside, melty chocolate all throughout--but with a little something special. That something special is lavender, which when crushed and added to the batter along with the sugar and butter, adds a delicate floral perfume throughout the cookie. I recommend preparing the dough the day before and letting it chill overnight in the fridge. It'll give the lavender a chance to infuse the dough for a more pronounced flavor.

If you're really feeling ambitious, I'd also make up a batch of my honey lavender ice cream, and use both to make homemade lavender ice cream sandwiches.


Lavender Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
yields about 4 dozen cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup oatmeal flour (to make: grind 1/2 cup rolled oats in food processor until finely milled, and measure out 1/4 cup).
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons culinary lavender 
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks

Combine flour, oatmeal flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Whisk to combine well and set aside. In the base of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, and lavender. Beat well until light and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and vanilla extract. Slowly add the flour mixture and stir in well until combined.  Remove bowl from mixer and mix in chocolate by hand.

Cover cookie dough bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill for a minimum of 8 hours and up to 24.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Portion dough into 2 tablespoon size round balls and place on prepared parchment paper about 2 inches apart. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until edges are crisp and center is just set. Let cool on baking sheet 3 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Repeat with rest of dough (let cookie sheet cool between batches). Leftover dough can also be stored following these directions.


Chocolate Covered Blueberries

Eugene has forbidden me from turning on the stove.

"NO," he warned, as a I contemplated a chocolate cake in the midst of the second heatwave in just as many weeks.

Plans thwarted, I turned to my no-cook chocolate dessert options. These Chocolate Covered Blueberries are the perfect quick summertime sweet. They take just a few minutes to make, with no need for an oven or even a stove!

You start off by washing the berries. I used a pint of fresh blueberries that I rinsed well under cold running water. You then need to dry them well in order to keep the chocolate smooth when you go to dip them.

I recommend washing the berries an hour or so in advance and letting them dry on a paper towel-lined baking sheet on your counter (or in the sun!)

Once the berries are dry, semi-sweet chocolate chips are melted until smooth in the microwave (about a minute, depending on your model) and thinned a bit with coconut oil or shortening. Then you just dip blueberries and spread them out on waxed paper. Pop them in the fridge for a few minutes to chill, and you have an incredible dessert.

Cold, chocolatey, and bursting with bright flavor. I love the way the dark chocolate shell cracks in your mouth to reveal the juicy berry inside! (Blueberries and dark chocolate are both filled with antioxidants so they're quite good for you, too.)

Keep these in the fridge for a cool post-dinner treat. They're wonderful on their own, but would also make an incredible topping for ice cream. You can also mix it up a bit and make a batch of chocolate covered raspberries, too.

New to Always Order Dessert? Consider subscribing to my newsletter, 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. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to check out my NYC dinner party style cooking classes. Thanks for reading!  

Chocolate Covered Blueberries Recipe

1 pint fresh blueberries
1 bag (2 cups) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
1 teaspoon coconut oil or shortening (such as crisco)

Wash blueberries and then dry well by blotting and then spreading out on a paper towel-lined baking sheet and letting sit for about 1 hour. You want to make sure that no water is left on the outside of the berries as that will cause the chocolate to "seize" and not coat the berries well.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with wax paper. Once the berries are dry, combine the chocolate and the coconut oil or shortening, and melt in the microwave in 30 second intervals until smooth, using a spoon to stir in between 30 seconds. Will typically take about 1 minute to 90 seconds total.

Add a few berries into the chocolate at a time and stir to coat, then place on the baking sheet with a spoon. You can place them individually or in small clumps of 2 to 5 for larger pieces. Repeat with rest of berries and chocolate.

Place in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to set. Serve immediately and store any uneaten chocolates in an airtight bag in the fridge for up to 3 days.

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