Monday, April 30, 2012

NEXT UP: My April in Photos

The fabulous blogger Jess at Forgiving Martha recently created a post showcasing several photos from April. Isn't that a great way to summarize the happenings of this past month before moving onto a new one? Thus, I present: My April in Photos.

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Friday, April 27, 2012

NEXT UP: Snickers-Stuffed PB Cookies

I used to dislike Snickers candy bars. As a fan of Milky Way bars, I didn't understand why someone had to ruin the nougat and caramel filling with a layer of peanuts.

Oh, I also used to dislike peanuts in my sweets.

Now that I have a more sophisticated, adult palette, I enjoy Snickers. But I think I have discovered an even better way to enjoy this candy bar: INSIDE A COOKIE. Genius? Or genius?

This recipe involves taking a basic peanut butter cookie recipe, flattening the dough balls, and then wrapping them around a mini Snickers bar.

Check out that TECHNIQUE.

The result is a chewy, peanutty cookie with a surprise of chocolate, caramel, nougat, and peanuts tucked inside.

Give them a try and let me know how you think they stack up.

Snickers-Stuffed Peanut Butter Cookies
Slightly adapted from Key Ingredient

18 Snickers Mini Candies
1 stick softened butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Mix butter, peanut butter, light brown sugar, and granulated sugar.

2. Add the egg and vanilla until thoroughly combined.

3. Stir in the flour, salt, and baking soda.

4. Optional but recommended: chill dough in the fridge for at least a few hours (overnight is best!)

5. Remove dough from fridge and let it warm up on the counter for 30 minutes.

6. Roll dough into rounded tablespoon-sized balls. Flatten.

7. Place a mini Snickers into the center of the flattened dough balls. Form the dough around the snickers to cover it.

8. Bake at 325 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Slightly flatten hot cookies with spatula if they are too rounded.

9. Let cool and enjoy!

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

NEXT UP: Baking Tips

I'm no expert baker, but I've churned out enough cookies and cupcakes to know a few tips about baking. This will probably be the first in a series of "Baking Tips" posts. Feel free to share your own in the comments section!

Chill out, Dough! Placing your cookie dough in the fridge for some period of time before baking makes a world of difference. The widely circulated NYTimes cookie article emphasizes this step. In fact, this is easily my biggest advice for cookie-makers. If your batter is too watery or your cookies come out too flat, chilling the dough first will definitely help. I usually refrigerate my dough overnight. I know it's hard to wait - but trust me on this one. 

Parchment paper, please. No one likes to pull seemingly perfect cookies out of the oven, only to discover the bottoms are somewhat burnt. Your oven may be sabotaging you if the bottom of the oven expels more heat (in which case, place your cookies on a higher rack). However, it could also be a pan problem. A cookie pan gets super hot--hence why you wear oven mitts--but parchment paper placed on top does not heat up. Plus, each sheet is non-stick and can be used several times. Save the cookie butts; line your sheets with parchment paper.

Experimenters: Proceed with caution. Some of the best recipes are created when a baker strays from the original instructions. I'm all for experimentation, but sometimes I add in an extra ingredient too quickly. For example - these pictured almond butter oatmeal cookies were on the track toward greatness...until I decided to add in some unsweetened coca powder. It would've been a sweet idea, but I poured in way too much cocoa and my cookies came out super dry. Yuck. Add your personal touches to a recipe, just do it in cautious increments.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

NEXT UP: Mad Hatters Tea Party

You can't visit London and not participate in afternoon tea.

The custom of afternoon tea supposedly began in the 19th century when the Duchess of Bedford started serving a light meal with tea to her aristocratic friends between breakfast and dinner (apparently lunch was beneath these posh people). Although the ritual seems to be enjoyed more by tourists than actual Brits nowadays, it is still a very English concept.

During my recent visit, my family and I enjoyed an Alice in Wonderland-themed "Mad Hatters Tea Party" at the Sanderson Hotel.

Confession: I was so distracted by the eats and sweets on the table that I barely drank any tea. You would be too if you were served the following:

Rainbow Coloured Finger Sandwiches
"Eat Me" Hearts: Queen of Hearts Strawberries & Cream Mousse
"Drink Me" Bottles: Passion Fruit Jelly, Coconut Pana-cotta & Exotic Foam
Chocolate Rabbit's Clock: Chocolate & Coffee Layered Sponge Cake
Blueberry Lollipop
Hazelnut Praline Ice-Cream Lollipop
Traditional Scones with Strawberry Preserve & Clotted Cream

The first of many plates

My favorite items were the craisin scones and the "Cucumber & black pepper on beetroot bread"sandwiches. The sweets were (gasp) a bit too sugary for me, but that didn't stop me from tasting all of them. Tea, champagne, and sparkling water were also served. All in all, it was a wonderful experience that stayed true to the Alice in Wonderland theme.
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Sunday, April 15, 2012

NEXT UP: Hunger Games in the Media

You would have to be living under a rock or in District 13 (doesn't exist...heh...) to have not heard about The Hunger Games. After being a bestselling trilogy, the first book has been made into a box office blockbuster.

I have read the first book and seen the movie, but this post is not a review of either. Instead, I wanted to point out just how this hit boovie (Book + movie! Okay fine, never again.) has became a popular cultural concept and media trademark.

The story is no longer confined to the pages of a book or the big screen. In fact, it has inspired themed weddings, Barbie dolls, and even increased sales of archery equipment.

Katniss Barbie doll (Source) 

When perusing my homepage, I noticed Hunger Games mentioned three times in front page headlines. The shout-outs were not just limited to the entertainment section, either. In addition to the expected "'Hunger Games' Wins Box Office Again" article, there was "Bridal Hunger Games: Losing Weight in Time for the Wedding" in the health section and "'Hunger Games' Parenting" in the opinion section.

I became curious about whether other news sites mentioned "Hunger Games" in their headlines. I checked out the top 15 most popular news websites (determined here) to see how many times "Hunger Games" was mentioned on a homepage headline and came up with the following results:

Two thirds of the websites had at least one headline mentioning "Hunger Games." Not bad for a concept that was originally shrugged off as just another children's story.

So is this popularity excessive? Has The Hunger Games received more media attention than it deserves? As a public relations major, I think it's great that the story has gotten so much coverage. Reporters are turning the title into a mainstream phrase and creating witty analogies for it across a variety of topics. It seems these mentions are not directly the work of a publicist's efforts. Rather, the story has generated its own PR in a way. That is often a publicist's dream.

What do you think? Are you tired of hearing about The Hunger Games?

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

NEXT UP: Healthy Baked Potato Chips

During Passover, I have to get a little creative with my meals. Cutting out bread is a bit tricky for this carb-loving girl. Luckily, the holiday encourages me to try new dishes, hence the creation of Healthy Baked Potato Chips.

Am I the only one who feels gross after polishing off a bag of salty, greasy Lays potato chips? Sure, it tastes like happiness and joy in crispy circular form while I'm eating it, but I'm usually left feeling icky and still hungry right after. This recipe satisfies my potato chip craving in a healthier manner.

Pre-baked potato slices 

You can eat your chips plain, with ketchup, or topped with extra spices. The thinner you slice your potato, the more chip-like your results will be. They're not Lays--but they might just be better.

Different batch

Healthy Baked Potato Chips
1 Potato
1 Tbs Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2) Prepare potato by either peeling it (if you want the skin off) or scrubbing it clean (if you want the skin on).

3) Slice potato into 1/4 inch slices or smaller, depending how crispy you want your chips.

4) Spread out slices on a baking tray. Lightly coat with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and any other spices you desire).

5) Bake for 30 minutes, flipping slices halfway through.

6) Let cool (trust me, it will be hard to wait), and enjoy!

Serves 1

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

NEXT UP: A Lovely London Hotel

When I traveled around Europe during my semester abroad last year, I stayed in several hostels. Some were okay, and some were not-so-okay. (Note: Never stay in a 16-person room in Prague. Yuck.

My most recent trip to Europe landed me in much nicer accommodations. My relatives and I stayed at the luxurious Claridge's Hotel. If you want to feel like a princess, this is the place to go.

Lobby of Claridge's; I always felt under-dressed walking through here!

I was not surprised to learn that the cast of Harry Potter stayed at Claridge's during their movie premieres; it is really a star-quality place. My family of six stayed in two bedrooms connected by a living room.

The room service food was delicious, although I mostly just stuck to oatmeal...I mean, porridge. The presentation was spot on as well. Who can complain about waking up to this in the morning?

The rooms were also cleaned at least once a day, and the staff always left goodies. A fruit basket was replenished daily, and our first night was met with a bottle of champagne (for my parents) and a tray of movie-watching snacks.

On Easter, a giant dark chocolate egg filled with wrapped milk chocolate mini eggs appeared in our rooms. However, I was more impressed by the front desk's willingness to cater to our Passover needs. My family held an abbreviated seder in our living room, and we were brought acceptable items to place on our seder plate. The horseradish looked like a marshmallow and the "roasted lambs bone" was a chicken wing...but they did the job!

Almost anyone with a British accent charms me, but the Claridge's staff was exceptionally friendly. They were quick to suggest restaurants and tourist activities, and they never got upset when my group (of 21 people, including young kids!) would get rather loud in the elegant, quiet lobby. Plus, the hotel is in a great location in Central London. Be careful if you're a shopaholic though; there are some very expensive stores surrounding the hotel.

I feel so privileged that I got a chance to stay at this wonderful hotel. If you're looking for a fancy stay in London, definitely ring up Claridge's.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

NEXT UP: The King's Speech...on stage!

Recently, I was surprised with a wonderful opportunity to take a family trip to London. Having studied there last spring, I know London has some of the best theaters (theatres?) in the world. My family and I got tickets to The King's Speech at the Wyndham's Theatre in the West End.

Many people are familiar with the story since the film version won last year's Oscar for Best Film. I somehow missed out on seeing the movie, so I came into the play without much knowledge of the plot.

Even without Colin Firth gracing the stage, the play was fantastic. The acting, staging, and script were--in the words of the Brits--brilliant. A few random points that made the play extra enjoyable:

  • One scene of the play involves the coronation chair. Earlier in the day, I took a tour of Westminster and saw the actual coronation chair. It was neat to recognize it on stage.
  • The actor playing the speech coach was also in Titanic
  • The king's brother dates an American girl. One line in the play read, "She's an American. Americans are the worst." I chuckled.
Now I am definitely interested in seeing the movie version. I hope the play comes to the United States soon so I can recommend it to my friends at home...and so I can see it again.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

NEXT UP: Peanut Butter & Co, NYC

Happy National Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Day everyone!!

My favorite sandwich ever definitely deserves to have its own special day. Of course, I can't let this monumental occasion slip past without some sort of blog post dedicated to the great PB&J. In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to talk about a fabulous food haunt in NYC that knows quite a bit about peanut butter sandwiches...

Peanut Butter & Co is a company that produces all-natural peanut butter in whimsical flavors, such as Cinnamon Raisin Swirl, White Chocolate Wonderful, and Mighty Maple. Sure, you could just order one of these jars online, but if you're in NYC, you MUST stop by the company's sandwich shop.

I was able to visit this mecca for peanut butter worshippers last summer. I spent a while perusing the menu. Choices ranged from sweet (PB-banana-honey!) to savory (Spicy PB with chilled grilled chicken?) to freaky (PB and pickles?? Peanut butter BLT?!).

I settled on a White Chocolate Wonderful Sandwich: two pieces of soft wheat bread were spread with white chocolate PB, orange marmalade, and almond slices. The menu advertised it as a "peanutty creamsicle."

This sandwich tasted more like a dessert than a lunch (despite the carrot sticks on the side), but it was delicious. Even if you can't make it out to the sandwich shop, I recommend perusing the menu online to get ideas for how to spruce up your own future PB&Js.

Although, a plain homemade PB&J will always have my heart.

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Sunday, April 1, 2012

NEXT UP: Firing Up a Baked Alaska

I knew that the dessert, Baked Alaska, involved placing ice cream in the oven, but I had no idea just how much this dessert could get fired up.

When my friends and I spotted Baked Alaska on the dessert menu at a restaurant recently, we were all intrigued. Having never tried it before, I asked the waiter if the whipped cream-topped, ice cream-filled cake was lit on fire.

He echoed my question: "Lit on fire?"

I nodded.

"Oh, just you wait."

Several minutes later he wheeled out a cart with the four desserts on it. He placed two sauce pourers upside down over an open flame to heat the tools.

He then placed Kahlua into one pourer and began letting the liquid flow back and forth between the two pourers.

As he continued pouring, the Kahlua heated up to the point that a blue flame surrounded the liquid. It was mesmerizing. He then poured the hot concoction over the cakes.

The finished product was a Kahlua-topped, dreamy puff of deliciousness. I'm not a big ice cream person (blasphemy, I know), but I loved this dish. The contrasts between the hot sauce, vanilla cake, and creamy, cold ice cream was unique. While it would have tasted great without the Kahlua, it was so entertaining to watch the process. 

Have you ever had a Baked Alaska? Would you rather order a cake-y dish or ice cream for dessert?

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