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Chill Out!

3 Jun

If we were making a What’s Hot, What’s Not chart, gourmet cupcakes would probably land on the not hot side. It’s true, the cupcake obsession has become so overblown that people are flat-out tired of hearing about them (though we doubt anyone is tired of eating them). And if you’re thinking of starting a cupcake bakery, you’re going to have to fight off a lot of frosting-gun weilding competitors.

Photo: Lissa Gotwals

What’s hot in the world of gourmet snacks is actually quite cold: ice pops! Just as the fancy-shmancy cupcake craze turned a basic home-baked goody into a 5-star tastebud affair, ice pop entreprenuers are taking flavored ice to a whole new level.

Perhaps the most famous pop-shop in the country, Las Paletas in Nashville, TN is named after the gourmet pop’s origin. Paletas–derived from the Spanish word palo, which means stick–have been a staple of Mexican childhood for decades. Immigrants brought them to the States, where paletas are sold as street food in Latin American communities. While the pops are traditionally made with fresh fruit, gourmet shops are adding ingredients you probably wouldn’t imagine on a stick: avocado, hibiscus, rhubarb, basil, and my personal favorite: tequila. We hope someone opens an ice pop bar, where all cocktails are served frozen on a stick. (Word is, Bar Ninteen12 serves up a mean martini popsicle.)

In honor of sticky-fingered summer days, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best gourmet ice pop makers in the country. And in case there isn’t a pop-monger near you, we’ve rangled up a few recipes for cocktail popsicle treats.

Las Paletas

Las Paletas has been featured on The Food Network multiple times, even playing host to Bobby Flay’s Throwdown (the Paz sisters took Flay down with their Pineapple-Chile concoction). This place is so famous it apparently doesn’t need a website, but you can find them in Nashville, TN.

 

People’s Pops

At several market locations in New York City, People’s pushes pops in flavors like Apricot-Caramel, Spiced Pear, Blueberry Chai and Rhubarb-Hibiscus. Each is handmade using local, sustainably-grown, organic ingredients.

 

Locopops

Summer Bicknell left her corporate job to launch Locopops, based in eastern North Carolina, in 2005. She didn’t just jump in blind. Bicknell actually spent three months apprenticing at a paleteria in Michoacan, Mexico (folklore has it that the first paleta was created in Michaocan). Flavors past and present include Mexican Chocolate, Mango Chile, and White Chocolate Sesame.

Pleasant Pops

College friends Brian and Roger brought gourmet paletas to Washington DC in 2010, where you can get ’em from a truck, a farmer’s market stand, or even on campus at George Washington University. Pleasant Pops ingredeints come from local farmers, and they offer more than 40 flavors including Thai Coconut Curry Cream, Blueberry Pancake, Guac Pop (Avocado Lime), and Watermelon Black Pepper.

Your fave ice pop maker didn’t make the list? Let me know and I’ll add ’em!

Photo: People's Pops

Mojito Pops

2 ounces Bacardi Light Rum           
3 ounces fresh lime juice                       
3 ounces simple syrup          
2.5 cups lemon lime soda              
12 fresh mint leaves                         
3 cups ice cubes                         

Combine ingredients into blender with ice.  Puree until mixture is smooth and slushy. Pour into 6 popsicle molds, add popsicle sticks and freeze for 8 hours.

Cucumber, Elderflower & Tequila

(courtesy People’s Pops & WSJ)

3 medium cucumbers
3 ounces elderflower syrup
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Approx. 1 ounce tequila

Wash and peel cucumbers, then puree them. Transfer puree to a container with a pouring spout and add the elderflower syrup and lemon juice. Next, add the tequila to taste. Be careful not to add too much tequila as it will prevent freezing. Pour the mixture into ice pop molds, leaving a little bit of room at the top for the expansion that occurs when liquids freeze. Insert sticks and freeze 4-6 hours, until solid.

Ahhhhh, Cacao

18 May

I’ve never been that into chocolate. I know, I know–this is heresy to some. It’s just that I find artificially flavored, sour, gummy candy far more alluring. A peanut butter cup here, a Milk Dud there, and I’m good to go on the chocolate front. An entire bag of Sour Patch Watermelons? Gone in 20 minutes.

My mom loves to tell people about the time I sucked so many sugar-coated sour candy strips that my tongue bled. My brother called me last week solely because he was in a candy store, and therefore, thought of me. No such phone call has ever been spawned by the sight of a chocolate bar.

Mexican Drinking Chocolate

Hot chocolate, however, is a totally different story. With marshmallows, whipped cream, or au natural… hot chocolate is my jam. Not that crap from Starbucks. (Attention Starbucks: If you are reading, be assured I love absolutely everything else about you.) What I’m talking about is that real, authentic, one-of-a-kind hot chocolate: Swiss Miss. Mmmmm. (Just when the hipsters are loving my Starbucks bashing, I go and blindside them with Swiss Miss love!)

Never fear, cocoa purists, my taste in the hot stuff made a dramatic turn this spring. A week after my parents visited Playa del Carmen in March, I received a package in the mail containing something for which chocolate enthusiasts can only stand up and cheer:           Ah Cacao Real Chocolate.

Ah Cacao, based out of Playa del Carmen, started as an MBA project.  Irishman Rohan Barnett and his Mexican wife, Monica, were inspired by their visit to a cacao plantation while backpacking in Mexico. Barnett soon drew up a business plan, and with little money and no experience in the culinary industry, ventured into the world of chocolate-making. Ah Cacao’s chocolate is made from criollo beans grown in Tabasco and Chiapas. The beans are harvested, fermented, dried, slightly roasted, and then ground into a fine powder.

Bean Harvesting

By the time the cacao reached me, it was formed into delicious rounds of chocolatey, cinnamony goodness. You could simply eat the stuff, but I did something much, much better. I made Mexican drinking chocolate. Suffice it to say, this stuff kicks some Swiss Miss ass.

So buy some. Or if you can afford it, hop on a plane to Playa del Carmen and visit the Ah Cacao Chocolate Cafe, where you can witness some ridiculously rad latte art (see below). If you get ahold of some Mexican drinking chocolate (other brands are available in gourmet grocery stores here in the States), here’s a simple recipe for preparing your mug of happiness.
 

Ah Cacao Chocolate Mexicano (Drinking Chocolate)

For every serving use:
2-4 segments of a chocolate tablet
1 cup of milk or water

Heat the milk or water in a pan until the first bubble pops. Remove from heat. Using a molinillo* or whisk beat in the chocolate until completely dissolved. Heat again until a froth begins to rise. Remove from the heat and beat a second time. Half-fill each cup then beat the remaining chocolate until frothy. Add the remaining foamed chocolate to each cup.

Your drinking chocolate can be spiced up by adding any of the following ingredients during the heating phase: Real Vanilla Extract or Bean, Orange or Lime Zest, Honey, Chile Pasilla, Nutmeg.

* A Molinillo (available in Ah Cacao stores) is a wooden chocolate whisk which is rotated by rubbing the staff between the palms of the hand.

Ah Cacao makes fantastic snacking chocolate and a number of other goodies. Oh, and they make skin care products to boot!

        

Gourmet Food for Your Broke Ass!

4 Jan

I am the queen of Champagne Taste on a PBR Budget. I have a knack for choosing the priciest candle on the shelf. The most costly curtain design. That pair of boots that will break the bank–you know, the one surrounded by dozens of cheaper or discounted pairs.

Gabi Moscowitz

If you can relate then you are sure to be stoked about a fabulous blog I recently discovered: BrokeAss Gourmet. Blogger Gabi Moskowitz posts recipes for delicious gourmet food. Here’s the kicker: every recipe can be created for less than $20 (assuming you have basic pantry stock items like olive oil). Some are as low as $4!

I don’t particularly enjoy cooking. In theory, I make food at home in order to save money. Yet often by the time I finish buying all the ingredients I’ve spent more than I would on a meal at my favorite restaurant! BrokeAss Gourmet ensures you know what you’ll be spending before you even step foot in the supermarket. And you won’t have to eat scrambled eggs or plain pasta for dinner five nights a week. Imagine feasting on Eggplant-Chard Won Ton Soup for $8 or Apple-Cabbage Piroshkis for $10! Can’t beat that.

Moskowitz often includes charming stories with her recipes. My favorite? Red Cabbage Striptease Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing. I just dare you to not click that link and read the story behind this unexpected recipe. I don’t think you can do it.

BrokeAss Gourmet has been kind enough to pass along two recipes for Cheekie’s readers. Enjoy!

Seared Scallops with Wasabi Aioli

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 lb fresh sea scallops $7.50
  • soy sauce Pantry
  • 1/8 cup light mayonnaise Pantry
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced Pantry
  • 1 tsp (more/less to taste) prepared wasabi $2 for 4 oz.
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil Pantry
  • freshly-ground black pepper Pantry
  • 2 handfuls mixed greens $1.50
  • Sriracha or other Asian chili sauce $1.50 for 8 oz.
  • toasted sesame seeds for garnish $3 for an 8-oz. container
  • Total Cost of Ingredients: $15.50

    DIRECTIONS

    Toss the scallops with 1/4 cup soy sauce and refrigerate for 5-10 minutes.

    Whisk together the mayonnaise, garlic, wasabi and a dash of soy sauce. Refrigerate until ready to use.

    Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Sear scallops for 1-2 minutes on each side (they should develop a nice brown crust).

    Divide greens between two plates and top with the seared scallops.

    Top each scallop with a dollop of the aioli and a dot of chili sauce. Garnish with the toasted sesame seeds.

    Serve immediately. Serves 2.

    Prep Time 0:20

    Cook Time 0:04

    Grilled Peaches Over Mixed Greens with Ricotta, Avocado, and Sweet Onion Dressing

    INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for brushing grill/grill pan Pantry
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced $0.50
  • 1 handful mint, plus more for garnish $0.50
  • 1 tbsp plus 2 tsp balsamic vinegar Pantry
  • 1 tbsp olive oil Pantry
  • 1 tsp honey, plus more for drizzling Pantry
  • 2 ripe peaches (I like white peaches for this recipe), halved, pit removed $2
  • 8 tbsp ricotta cheese $4 for 15 oz.
  • 8 cups mixed greens $3
  • 1 ripe avocado, sliced $1.50
  • salt and pepper Pantry
  • Total Cost of Ingredients: $11.50

    DIRECTIONS

    Heat vegetable oil in a medium frying pan over medium-low heat. Add sliced onions and cook, stirring very occasionally, for 10-12 minutes. The onions should become very soft and fragrant.

    In a food processor or blender, puree caramelized onions, mint, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, and a pinch of salt. Add a few drops of water if necessary to achieve a nearly-smooth dressing. Set aside.

    Heat grill or grill pan over high heat. Brush lightly with oil. Grill peaches flesh-side down for 2-3 minutes, or until grill marks appear and peaches soften slightly. Remove from heat.

    To assemble salads, toss greens together with dressing and divide between 2 or 4 plates. Top with a few avocado slices and 1 or 2 peach halves. Top each peach half with a generous dollop of ricotta, a light drizzle of honey and freshly-cracked pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 2-4.

    Psst: Make this recipe vegan by leaving off the ricotta!

    Prep Time 0:25

    Cook Time 0:15

    Women Food and God: An Excerpt

    3 Jan

    On New Year’s Day we posted about Women Food and God, a wonderful book by Geneen Roth. Today we are providing you with an excerpt from the book, in hopes that it will inspire all of you to read it (whether or not you have a weight “problem” or food addiction). Women Food and God can be enlightening for anyone–even, say, a thin male atheist.

    Food is the example Roth uses, as she has struggled personally with a food addiction and worked for decades with people who have eating disorders. Still, her words apply to anyone who has experienced an obsessive behavior–whether food, sex, drugs, alcohol, excercise, or any other substance/activity be the drug of choice.

    The following excerpt is particularly striking to me as a 27 year-old grappling with the questions, disappointments and confusions of life.

    Deficiency. Emptiness. They’re just words, names that evoke scary thoughts, which then evoke scary feelings. And both the thoughts and the feelings are based on her idea of what is supposed to be happening that isn’t: “I’m supposed to be Someone Special and here I am doing grunt work and reviewing other people’s documents. This isn’t what I dreamed about. I’m never going to amount to anything. My life is a waste. What if it’s always like this? What if my dreams are just pipe dreams? I should have known this was going to happen. I should have listened to my eighth-grade teacher, Mrs. Simpkinson, when she told me I’d never amount to anything. Oh, I feel so empty. I feel deficient, flawed, like I am and never will be enough. I need to eat.”

    Deficiency sounds awful, but is it? What does it actually feel like? Is it a big hole in her stomach? Her chest? Does it feel like everything has dropped away and she’s holding on to the edge of a huge abyss, about to fall in? If she stops trying to hold on and lets herself fall, what would happen? (Remember that all of these are images in her mind. She’s not really holding on to the edge of an abyss, she’s probably sitting in a chair. She wouldn’t actually fall anywhere if, in her mind, she let herself “fall.”) Is emptiness the experience of space or is it something else? If it’s space and she feels it direclty–in her body where it resides–she might notice if there is anything that is actually scary about it or if it’s just a story she is telling herself.

    There is a whole universe to discover between “I’m feeling empty” and turning to food to make it go away. The problem of weight is predictable. We know what to do when we have that problem. Beat ourselves up. Make ourselves wrong. Eat fewer donuts. But staying with the emptiness–entering it, welcoming it, using it to get to know ourselves better, being able to distinguish the stories we tell ourselves about it from the actual feeling itself–that’s radical.

    Imagine not being frightened by any feeling. Imagine knowing that nothing will destroy you. That you are beyond any feeling, any state. Bigger than. Vaster than. That there is no reason to use drugs because anything a drug could do would pale in comparison to knowing who you are. To what you can understand, live, be, just by being with what presents itself to you in the form of the feelings you have when you get home from work at night…

    Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, pp 56-57

    ‘Tis the Season for Chocolate

    21 Dec

    Okay, every season is the season for chocolate. But this is the season for lots and lots of chocolate (no guilt allowed!).

    If you’re going to feast on chocolate, and you ought to, I suggest you opt for Marcie Blaine Artisinal Chocolates. Handcrafted and exquisite, these chocolates are a decadent treat perfect for any cocoa-lover.

    Marcie Blaine chocolates feature worldy flavors (inspired by Mexican, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine), though the chocolates call Philadelphia home. Chef and entrepreneur Marcie Blaine Turney uses local, organic ingredients from nearby Lancaster County in her chocolate creations. And Turney’s talent doesn’t stop at chocolate. She and Valerie Sofran own six shops and restaurants on 13th Street in Philadelphia, including Verde boutique, home to the Marcie Blane chocolate kitchen.

    Year-round flavors include the spicy Hot Lolita (with canela and ancho chile), Mango Lassi, Smoked Bacon, and Mexian Mole. The team has also crafted four enticing holiday flavors for 2010: Cranberry Bliss, Spiked Eggnog, Ginger… Snap!, and Peppermint Crunch. If those Christmasy concoctions don’t put you in the holiday spirit, you might just be destined to be a Grinch for eternity!

    While all these sassy flavors and designs offer a wow-factor, the Marcie Blaine chocolates closest to my heart are the four Philadelphia Series delights. Gorgeous designs for Love Park, Liberty Bell, Soft Pretzel, and Philly Skyline chocolates make me homesick for the City of Brotherly Love. The Soft Pretzel chocolate features peanut butter and pretzel ganache. It takes a genius chocolatier to draw such inspiration from a blue-collar street food! And while there’s nothing quite like a dense Philly soft pretzel topped with mustard, Marcie Blaine’s Soft Pretzel is a delicious up-scale version.

    If you’re looking for unique textures and flavors, try one of Marcie Blaine’s chocolate barks, such as the chock-full Pub Crawl or the simple Fleur de Sel. Happily, Marcie Blaine delivers all over the world!

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