Toffifay + Truffle Popcorn for the Win

February 24, 2017

Oooooh Sally and I just love award season! And of course, the grand finale - The Academy Awards - is this Sunday. Which means we have a special sister shindig watching planned. Everything just seems better when we watch together...we think it has to do with our complimentary yet different personalities and opinions. From favorite dresses on the red carpet to favorite presenters and which nominees we have picked to win - it's our ying and yang commentary that makes taking in the Oscars (and all the other award shows from earlier in the season) so fun.

To celebrate the big night we'll be donning cozy sweatpants (duh), gathering our pups (naturally), and indulging in delicious treats (necessary). This year our snacking spread is focused on sweet and savory. After some voting (it is award season, after all!) we determined that Toffifay would be the ideal something sweet to go along side truffle popcorn. A little test drive of the pairing while filling out our personal Oscar ballots (we downloaded ours from here) proved that it's a match made in heaven!

 

If you’ve never had Toffifay, let us tell you that it’s seriously one incredible candy…we’re girls who love chocolate but prefer it to pack a punch of flavor and Toffifay fits our criteria in spades. Nestled into golden trays are little caramel cups filled with a whole hazelnut and topped with chocolate. Chewy, crunchy and smooth…the combo is addictive and irresistible.

Toffifay is delectable on its own but eating it along side popcorn – especially popcorn topped with buttery truffle oil and parmesan cheese – just makes it even more yum. Here’s how we made our truffle popcorn:

  • 1/2 cup corn kernels popped
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons black truffle oil
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Directions: Melt butter (best done on the stove over low heat) and combine truffle oil. Pop kernels (we use this air popper!). Pour butter and truffle oil mixture over popcorn and toss. Add parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and toss again.

Trust us when we say that this is one winning snacking pair! We highly suggest getting in on the Toffifay action while you get cozy for your own Oscar viewing!

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Kale Salad with La Vaquita Queso Fresco

February 23, 2017

I've heard that one of the best ways to shop a grocery store is by focusing on the perimeter versus the aisles. Why? Because along the edge is where you find the produce, meats, dairy, deli...the less processed stuff. The aisles hold temptation like cereal (a former main food group of mine), frozen food, and all things already packaged, preserved, and or boxed and bagged. There's nothing wrong with hitting up the middle section - and believe me I have some frozen pizzas, pasta, peanut butter, and taco chips to prove it - but I do try to keep the perimeter technique in mind when I'm getting my groceries. Aside from it being more "healthy," it's also made me more curious about certain foods and ingredients and led to some great discoveries.

Kale happens to be something I love ordering at a restaurant but have never bought myself. I was thinking this the other day when I was making my grocery list and craving a salad different from the arugula and tomato variety I had been eating for weeks. One of my fave cheeses - La Vaquita Queso Fresco - was already on my list so I did a little Googling for "kale + queso fresco" and found a yummy recipe to inspire me. Bonus, the easy salad included another ingredient I never ever buy but like: radishes. I took some liberties with the original recipe - deciding against using pipitas and swapping in this dressing (from one of my favorite spots in Dallas) then I hit the store.

 

Grocery shopping was once something I loathed but now really enjoy. I think it’s because I’ve made myself familiar with where to find things I need and am not afraid to ask questions when I need help. Case in point: years ago when I made my first recipe requiring Queso Fresco  I was looking for the cheese it in the area by the meats/deli area. Nada. I finally asked where I could find the crumbly cheese and was directed to the dairy section – near where you find all the milk, yogurt, etc. Alas! Queso Fresco. There were a few brand options to choose from but I went with La Vaquita because I saw that it was made locally in Texas. I might not be a Texas native but that doesn’t keep me from buying locally-made goodness. After using La Vaquita Queso Fresco that first time (I think it was for brisket tacos) I was hooked on the super fresh, creamy cheese and have been buying the queso and creamas since. They’re great for Mexican style dishes but I’ve used them in non-Mexican recipes, too.

Lucky for me, La Vaquita is sold at all my go-to grocery stores (Tom Thumb, Central Market and Kroger). And I just have to stroll the perimeter of the store to land on it. Ok…now it’s time for the Kale Salad recipe that is the purpose of this post!

Fresh and Light Kale Salad: As we all probably know by this point, kale is a super veggie. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense commonly eaten vegetables and contains high amounts of vitamin K, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Eating it raw (like in a salad) is the best way to keep all the vitamins intact. It doesn’t have an overly strong taste (maybe just a little peppery) so it’s easy to dress up and pair with other ingredients. As I mentioned above, my inspiration for mixing the kale with radishes, avocado and Queso Fresco came from this recipe. But I wasn’t super keen on using lime in the dressing as suggested and decided to use this dressing recipe for one of my favorite kale salads in Dallas. Though the lime may have made for more of a “Mexican” flavor, I found that the lemon and garlic went perfectly with the other fixings and the whole combination was super delicious!

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale
  • 4 medium radishes
  • 1 avocado
  • 1/2 cup La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Salad Dressing Ingredients:

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  • Slice kale into thin ribbons
  • Thinly slice radishes
  • Cube avocado
  • Crumble La Vaquita Queso Fresco
  • Combine dressing ingredients in a salad dressing mixer or whisk in a bowl
  • Layer kale, radishes, avocado and Queso Fresco in a large bowl, top with dressing and gently toss.
  • Add additional crumbled Queso Fresco if desired and/or serve with with some on the side to be added after plated.

Sally – being the lucky sister that she is – got to enjoy this yum salad with me after we photographed it and she was just as into it as I was. We’re definitely going to make it again (and again, and again). It’s super filling on its own and we decided it would be great with some grilled chicken, too. Of course, we added extra spoonfuls of Queso Fresco on top of our servings because the cheese is always our favorite part!

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Cheers to New Adventures

December 16, 2016

Are y'all getting tired of seeing all the photos of my pups all over Instagram? I can't help going overboard with the posting...Blue is loving his new little sister Rosebud and I'm loving this new adventure of being a dog mom to two. I've been through the puppy stage before with Blue but there's a whole different learning curve doing it the second time around.

There are three big issues I'm currently facing: 1) maintaining my work schedule while chasing after a very busy pup (re: playing with her all day), 2) fighting to stay awake and energized now that I'm getting less than the optimal hours of sleep and being frequently woken up for potty visits outside, and 3) making sure that Blue is still feeling super loved and adored now that my attention is split between two fur babies.

I'm trying to embrace the adventure and remind myself that this puppy phase goes by so quickly. The mantra "but first, coffee" has never been more real and I've been expanding my taste buds as I enjoy my daily cups (note the plural) of caffeine. Indulging in Dunkin’ Donuts® at Home Bakery Series® coffee has been the little reward and push I've needed to keep up with my work and "do it all." As for making Blue feel loved - he still gets to sleep with me in bed and I've been making homemade treats with some of his favorite stuff to show him just how spesh he still is.

Does making homemade dog treats in my own kitchen officially make me a crazy dog lady? If making healthy and cost effective treats for my puppy boy makes me wrong, then I just don’t want to be right! Rosebud will most likely get the same treats when she’s bigger but for now, her puppy tummy only gets food. I probably shouldn’t even call them treats…there’s only three ingredients and no meat. God bless the good buyers of Amazon for leaving recipes when I was looking up silicone dog bone molds. Here’s the recipe I found and the instructions on how to make:

  • 1 15oz can of organic pure pumpkin puree (NOT pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup of organic coconut oil (softened/at room temperature but not melted)
  • 1/3 cup Brewer’s Yeast
  • Combine all three ingredients (I used my standing mixture but mixing by hand or with a blender would also work) and blend until smooth
  • Make small dollops on the mixture on a cookie sheet with wax paper or use a silicone mold tray (I got this cute one from Amazon!)
  • Freeze “treats” for about three hours or till they are firm
  • Store in a Ziplock bag or container in the freezer

Blue LOVES coconut oil. I used to give him a spoonful each morning and he would basically do flips for it – but I realized I had been slacking on my duties since Rosebud’s arrival. He also LOVES sweet potato. A lot of owners give sweet potato puree to pups when they’re having upset stomachs and Blue is no exception, but he also gets the stuff in the form of “Sam’s Yams” dehydrated sweet potato chews. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a true lab and will literally try to eat anything and everything, but I try to keep his weight at a healthy level and have found these simple “treats” to be good alternatives to products with meat. The last ingredient, Brewer’s Yeast, is a new one for us. I’d read that the supplement is a great antioxidant for dogs and improves their coats (less shedding!), boosts their immune systems, helps with anxiety, and more – so when I saw it in the recipe I figured I would give it a try.

I mentioned that Blue will eat anything and I wasn’t kidding (he drools whether I’m eating scrambled eggs or string cheese) but he is really crazy about these homemade little bones. It makes me so happy giving him this little treat and I hope he gets that it’s an extra way I’m trying to make him feel special and loved.

Speaking of treats. Let’s talk about how I’ve been treating myself! Something you might not know about me unless you really know me, is I adore baked goods. Donuts, cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies, cake, cupcakes, brownies – I really don’t discriminate. My biggest vice when in an airport is a coffee and something sweet. But despite my cravings, I don’t eat donuts and cake each and every day…I just do the next best thing and drink a cup of  Dunkin’ Donuts® at Home Bakery Series coffee. Finally, someone figured out how to combine rich, delicious Dunkin’ Donuts® coffee and bakery-fresh taste. It’s the best of both worlds! There are six flavors in the Bakery Series Coffee but I’ve been loving the Cinnamon Coffee Roll.  I love the hint of cinnamon – it’s full of flavor but not too sweet or overpowering. Brewing it in my French Press makes for a nice morning ritual to start my day and it also makes for a super delicious afternoon pick-me-up so I can continue to keep up with my pups.

Happy fur babies and a happy dog mama makes the three of us ready for any and all exciting adventures to come!

What adventures are you currently living right now? I want to know!

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Sparkling Wine + Holiday Sweets

December 6, 2016

Sally and I are big (big, big) fans of Christmas. Mostly because our family is notorious for doing it up for the holiday. We don't have many traditions but the ones we do have surround food and family. Each year our mom welcomes us home with an impressive amount of home-made holiday cookies. There are usually multiple batches of around five different cookie recipes and my siblings and I work our way through the collection through the course of our stay at home. You'd think we'd be over this sugary display (being the mature adults that we are) but the sweets are a hallmark of our holiday.

I used to get in on some of the baking with my mom back when I had a longer holiday break in college but she now has it down to a solo science. And really, I'm much better at eating cookies than I am at baking them. I'm also great at playing bar tender and making sure that everyone has a full glass of something festive to go along with the delicious dinners and mouthwatering cookies our mother is famous for. This year I've pre-planned the best bubbly to accompany the aforementioned food situations while at home and it's Cupcake Vineyards Sparkling Red. From the holiday-red hue to the bright flavors (which are perfect for the holiday season), it is the perfect sparkling wine to pop, pour, and cheers with right now!

 

Fun fact: sparkling wine is different than prosecco, is different than champagne. Champagne is a sparkling wine made in the Champagne region France. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. There are some production and taste differences but they’re all generally delicious and bubbly. The Cupcake Sparkling Red is  made with Brachetto and Moscato grapes grown in the hills of the Piedmonte in Northern Italy. Its aroma (the scent) of black cherry, florals and nutmeg and its flavor (what happens when taste and aroma converge) starts with jammy fruit flavors of dark berries and finish with a hint of vanilla and spice – makes it especially wonderful when paired with sweet treats.

The first time I tried Cupcake Sparkling Red I was in love with it. I personally think that sparkling wine (and this one in particular) is appropriate to indulge in year round but it always feels most appropriate around the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years holidays. Maybe because you’re among family and friends and warm fuzzy feelings are just amplified with a little bubbly? Whatever the case, I think it’s delish and I can’t wait to sip it with family in the coming weeks!

Of course, I had to give the Sparking Red a proper test drive with some holiday sweets to be 100% sure it was as perfect a pairing as I imagined. The verdict: it is. The chocolate and vanilla Petit Fours and frosted sugar cookies I picked up from Society Bakery in Dallas served as place holders for my mom’s confections…they were all super yum but nothing comes close to what my mom will have waiting for me when I come home!

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Cooking with La Vaquita Queso

November 18, 2016

I'm not Texas-born - and I've only lived in the state for a little over six years - but I'd like to think that I've developed several tendencies of a native. Especially in regards to food. For example: I could eat Mexican food all day everyday, I believe in the healing powers of a great margarita, I definitely think eggs taste best in a breakfast taco, and I think that Texas has some of the most authentically delicious food, chefs, and restaurants. I'll admit that I'm a little bit biased. But it's hard not to be when surrounded but such authentic flavors and ingredients!

While pizza is admittedly my food husband, I'd like to think of cheese as my food boyfriend. He's a good boyfriend because he's so versatile - a quality that really became apparent to me when I arrived in Texas. And while I don't discriminate between varieties, I definitely have a thing for Mexican and Tex-Mex cheeses. From creamy queso (cheese dip) and salty cojita to crumbled queso fresco, no Mexican dish feels complete without some cheese. When I shop for these Hispanic cheeses to use in my own recipes, I like to use La Vaquita. Not only is it made in Texas (pride) but each variety is always fresh, flavorful, and easily elevates my humble homemade dishes. And although the cheeses are based on Mexican techniques and go wonderfully with Hispanic cuisine, they also pair really well with other recipes. I'm sharing two of my fave La Vaquita recipes so show just how easily the brand's Queso Fresco can be included in non-Mexican food!

 

Before I get into the yummy recipes, I just have to tip my hat to food bloggers. Food prep, styling, and shooting is NOT easy! I had shot the ingredients for each recipe before having Sally take photos of me doing the assembly portion…and then I accidentally deleted all of those prep/ingredient shots. So. Frustrating. But the recipes turned out deliciously and that’s what really matters, right?

So! Each of these recipes are super yummy and I used La Vaquita Queso Fresco in both. Queso Fresco (which means “fresh cheese”) is a made from pasteurized milk and is great cheese to add to dishes because it crumbles really well, doesn’t melt easily (which makes for great mixing), and has a smooth creamy texture. Unlike a lot of other crumbling cheeses (like feta, blue cheese, etc.) Queso Fresco has a mild flavor that’s bright and fresh but not overpowering – making it especially great for a variety of dishes, both Hispanic and not. Case and point with the two recipes below!

.Hummus Fresco: Hummus is one of my favorite appetizers. It’s easy, most everyone likes eating it, and there are so many ways to dress it up. I took the original La Vaquita recipe and altered it a little bit (by not making my own pico de gallo) to make things even easier on myself. Though it’s “semi-homemade” I love how colorful the final result is and think that the hand-crumbed Queso Fresco adds a great texture element.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups hummus
  • 1/2 cup Pico de Gallo
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • black pepper
  • 1/2 cup La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Directions:

  • On a large plate, spread hummus evenly about 1 inch.
  • Sprinkle pico de gallo around the edge of the plate.
  • Drizzle hummus with olive oil
  • Crack fresh pepper on top
  • Sprinkle chopped cilantro on top of pico de gallo and/or atop hummus
  • Heap center with crumbled La Laquita Queso Fresco
  • Serve with pita or tortilla chips

.Zesty Roasted Brussel Sprouts: Brussel sprouts make for the perfect crowd-pleasing side dish and they go so well with almost any protein. I’m crazy about eating them and love cooking them, too. This recipe caught my attention because of the orange zest + honey + cayenne pepper…I’m so glad I tried making it because the combination is delicious! There’s a definitely spice factor due to the cayenne pepper and the Queso Fresco really helps the spicy from taking over.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of orange zest
  • 1/4 cup of La Vaquita Queso Fresco

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Cut brussels sprouts in half. In a large baking sheet, toss brussels in olive oil and season with salt. Roast for 25-30 minutes until deeply browned.
  • Heat honey, cayenne and orange zest together in a small sauce pan on low and pour over brussels sprouts once they are out of the oven.
  • Before serving, sprinkle in La Vaquita Queso Fresco.

The next time I make the Zesty Brussel Sprounts I want to try using half Queso Fresco and half La Vaquita Cojita cheese. Cojita is an aged cheese that has more of a salty flavor and I think it would be so yummy with the fresh Cojita and roasted brussels…

Feeling hungry? Try these dishes for yourself and visit the La Vaquita site for more yum recipes!

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