Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Chip Bread

There comes a time every year when I start wanting to bake with pumpkin. It usually happens once there’s a chill in the air and the leaves start changing, but this year, it happened early.

I’m not the only one who feels this way; when I went to the grocery store to buy pumpkin puree the other day, it was all sold out. Every. single. can.

Luckily, I knew people weren’t going for the organic pumpkin puree, so I managed to get my hands on a couple (2 for $5…a bit steep for pumpkin, but desperate times call for desperate measures). I took them home, opened a can, and made this pumpkin dark chocolate chip bread.

A couple notes about this bread: First, it’s incredible. Second, it pays to use really good dark chocolate chips. Aside from the pumpkin, the chocolate is a standout ingredient. It adds just the right amount of sweetness and pairs well with the pumpkin. I like to throw some dark chocolate chips on top of the batter before I bake the whole loaf, but if you’re not feeling chocolate overload (and then, who are you?), you can skip that step.

I enjoyed this pumpkin loaf fresh out of the oven and then many days after. It’s great with a cup of coffee or tea. It basically can pass as any meal in a pinch.

Here’s a song to get you started on your pumpkin dark chocolate chip bread journey.

Pumpkin Dark Chocolate Chip Bread

Ingredients

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground all spice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs, at room temp
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cups unsweetened pumpkin puree
2/3 cup dark chocolate chips plus more for sprinkling on top

Directions

Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Heavily coat a 9×5 loaf pan with nonstick spray and set aside.

Whisk together the flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda, ground spices and salt in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs, oil and brown sugar on medium until well combined. Beat in the milk and pumpkin puree until combined.

Use a heavy spoon to mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not overmix! Mix it until it’s just combined and there are no traces of flour. Gently fold in the dark chocolate chips.

Transfer the batter into the prepared loaf pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and then sprinkle extra dark chocolate chips on top. Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes (checking at 40 if you have a fast oven like mine), or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Place the loaf on a wire rack to cool all the way before slicing. Enjoy!

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Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Picture an overcast, rainy fall day when you sleep late, stumble into the kitchen, make some coffee, and then set up your computer to watch the entire Season Four of Real Housewives of Potomac.

Okay, maybe the last part isn’t universal, but I’m off work for a week before I start my new job, so I get to do (pretty much) whatever I want. On a related note, I decided to make these apple cinnamon muffins this morning.

I’m a big fan of apple desserts in the fall, but sometimes you need something that is semi-healthy and filling and more easily passes as actual breakfast. See: these muffins. They’re slightly sweet, full of tender chunks of apple, and they’re warming with ground cinnamon. They’re the perfect thing to make when the weather becomes colder and you want an easy baking project.

You can use any kind of apples in these muffins but I used Jonagolds. I like that kind for baking muffins because they’re sweet with a little bit of tartness, so they usually pair well with other flavors. When I make a pie or crisp, I go for something tart like Granny Smith so I can balance all that sugar with some tartness.

A trick to baking perfect muffins every time is checking them when there’s a few minutes left of baking. Tap the top lightly with your finger. If the surface springs back, you’ll know your muffins are done.

These muffins are great with a cup of coffee or by themselves. It’s hard to eat just one.

Here’s a song to get you started on your muffin journey.

Apple Cinnamon Muffins

Ingredients

1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 cup grated apple
1 cup apple cut into small cubes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup plain, 5% fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract
turbinado sugar for sprinkling on top

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F with a rack in the middle. Spray or butter a muffin pan generously, or use liners if you want.

Whisk together the whole wheat flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Toss in the grated apple and cubed apple with a large spoon and stir until everything is well combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the olive oil and maple syrup until combined. Then whisk in the eggs until well combined. Whisk in the Greek yogurt, applesauce, and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and combine with a large wooden spoon until there are no more traces of flour. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top of each muffin. Bake the muffins for about 12-14 minutes, or until the tops spring back to the touch. Cool the muffins in the tin on a wire rack. Enjoy!

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Tennessee

Last week, Jim and I drove down to Tennessee for a friend’s wedding. We decided to make it a long trip and stop in Nashville on the way there, and then in Chattanooga on the way home. I’ve been to Nashville several times, but I’d never been to Chattanooga or Eastern Tennessee where the wedding was. The latter two destinations ended up being my favorites.

Don’t get me wrong; Nashville is a fun city with lots to see and eat, but Chattanooga and Eastern Tennessee are more beautiful and, frankly, relaxing. I always find myself irritated when I get to Nashville, maybe because there is a slightly faster pace and (sorry Nashvillians) no one can drive. But luckily, Eastern Tennessee and Chattanooga more than made up for the minor frustrations I endured in the center of the state.

I could go on and on about what we saw and did during our five days there, but I’ll keep my recommendations centered on food. Even though Nashville is not my favorite place, I won’t deny that their food scene is great and never disappoints. I also found some gems in Chattanooga.

Nashville

Redheaded Stranger

Redheaded Stranger, like its name, is eclectic. It serves delicious tacos with several different fillings, and it has plenty of alcohol to boot. I probably should have gotten a frozen margarita after the five and a half hour drive down from St. Louis, but at least I got barbacoa tacos with shredded beef and cheese. We ate the tacos on the patio, where you can sit and people watch and soak up the local flavor.

Crema

I’ve followed Crema on Instagram for years, and for some reason, I thought they were in New Orleans. Luckily I realized my mistake and we went there for a mid-day pick me up coffee after lunch. I got an iced latte with mint-infused honey and it was divine. It was exactly what I needed to perk up in time for the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Folk

I had high expectations for Folk, and it did not disappoint. I heard about the restaurant from a fellow food writer in St. Louis, who posted about it on his Instagram. Their pizza looked delicious, so I made a note to visit them next time I was in Nashville. I’m so happy I went. The pizza is some of the best I’ve ever had, and I loved the appetizers. We got marinated olives and ham and watermelon to start, followed by pizza and dessert. Don’t hold back at Folk; get everything that appeals to you.

Dozen Bakery

For me, a road trip is not complete without stopping at a bakery. Dozen Bakery more than satisfied my craving. I usually go the sweet route at a bakery, but Friday morning, I decided to get a big egg sandwich to prepare for the four hour drive to Eastern Tennessee for the wedding. I’m so glad I did. The egg was perfectly cooked and served on homemade sesame focaccia bread that melted in my mouth.

Franklin Bakehouse

On the way home on Monday, we made a slight detour and stopped in Franklin, TN, near Nashville for breakfast. I visited Franklin 10 (how has it been that long) years ago and loved its small-town charm and food. I’m a big fan of Franklin Bakehouse, which makes all its own bread and pastries. I got a homemade bagel and lox and it hit the spot.

Chattanooga

Whitebird

I did a little reconnaissance before my trip to Chattanooga and read that Whitebird was the place to go for a nice dinner. The reviews were right. The service was excellent and with the exception of one dish (don’t get the crab dip), the food was great, too. I would highly recommend the charred tomato bucatini with local mushrooms.

Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast

Chattanooga is right on the border of Georgia. The place I found us to stay, Chanticleer Inn Bed and Breakfast, is actually in Lookout Mountain in Georgia, only minutes from downtown Chattanooga. I loved it; it was peaceful, relaxing, and they had delicious breakfast cooked to order. I got the biscuits and gravy and I’m still thinking about them days later.

Lookout Mountain Pizza Company

I read about Lookout Mountain Pizza Company a while ago, or maybe I heard about it from someone who mountain climbs in Southern Tennessee. Either way, I remembered it when I was scrolling through a map on Sunday trying to find us a place to eat. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Chanticleer in Georgia, but it’s well worth the trip. Their Neapolitan wood-fired pizza is delicious. And the drive to get to the restaurant is scenic and beautiful.

Here’s a song to get you started on your Tennessee journey, if you go. Jim heard me sing it in the car about twenty times over the past few days.

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Sprinkle Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t know how it took me 30 plus years to come up with this concept, but sprinkles + chocolate chip cookies = sprinkle cookies!

Sprinkles make everything better, in my opinion. Maybe not onion dip or steak, but anything sweet. Plus, they’re so cute and bright, they add a little pop of sunshine to any dessert.

My love of rainbow sprinkles dates back to Baskin Robbins circa 1993, when I ordered my favorite flavor of ice cream (mint chip) with rainbow sprinkles on top. That Baskin Robbins store (which still exists; I go about once a month) throws basically half a jar of rainbow sprinkles in the cup, so it’s really sprinkles with a side of ice cream, just the way I like it.

Since then, I’ve started to put sprinkles in pretty much everything. I chose them as my mix-in for frozen custard concretes, I’ve added them to birthday cakes, and I’ve put them on top of cupcakes. It was only earlier this week when I decided to put them in one of my favorite desserts of all time, chocolate chip cookies.

You might be like, whoah, sprinkles are a sugar overload in an otherwise sweet dessert. Well, this isn’t true. I only use semisweet or dark chocolate chips in my chocolate chip cookies, so they’re not too sweet. Plus, sprinkles are very bright and colorful, but they’re stealthy when they’re mixed in things. So they won’t bombard you with sweetness in these cookies.

Here’s a song to get you started on your sprinkle cookie journey.

Sprinkle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

2 and 3/4 cups (345 g) AP flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (230 g; 2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (200 g) light brown sugar
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs at room temp
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 package (2 cups; 340 g) semisweet chocolate chips
lots of sprinkles

Directions

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter with the two sugars for a minute or two until thoroughly combined. Then add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix well, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula if you need to. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and mix until just combined. Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add the chocolate chips and sprinkles. Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours and up to a day.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Remove the dough from the fridge and scoop about a tablespoon at a time onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake the cookies for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and lightly golden on top. Remove them from the oven and let them set for five minutes before allowing them to cool the rest of the way on a wire rack. Enjoy!

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Updates from the Windy City and Illinois

A couple weeks ago, Jim and I went up to Chicago for a long weekend. A lot of people don’t realize this, but Chicago is one of the best places you can visit during the summer.

Why? Basically, it’s a respite from the extreme heat and humidity of other places in the lower Midwest. Yes, Chicago gets hot and humid, but it’s nothing compared to how it gets in St. Louis, when you go outside and feel like you’re swimming in a pool by breathing.

Also, Chicago has a lake. Whenever it gets hot, people flock to its beaches, which generally are less crowded or overrun than beaches you would find in other parts of the country. And the water is a nice temperature, so you don’t feel like you’re going to freeze when getting in.

We had a great few days in the Windy City. I went to grad school and then interned in Chicago eight years ago, so whenever I go back, I try to throw in a mix of favorite destinations and also new places that I’ve wanted to visit. This trip was the perfect balance of old and new. Here are some of my favorite places from our trip. I’ll also give a couple recommendations from Bloomington, IL, because we stopped there on the way up, and one from Southern Illinois, where we stopped on the way home.

Bloomington, Illinois

You can easily do the drive from St. Louis to Chicago in a day, but if you want a leisurely route with some small-town charm, I’d recommend stopping for the night in Bloomington, Illinois. We decided to drive up Thursday night and stay at the Vrooman Mansion, a historic house that’s been converted into a B&B. It was definitely worth the stop. The inside is so charming; it really feels like you’ve stepped back 100 years. Also, the breakfast is incredible. We had local grilled peaches with homemade granola, frittata, and turtle pancakes. Everything was so delicious. It was honestly better than some of the restaurant meals I’ve had recently.

Also, while you’re in Bloomington, don’t miss Gene’s Dairy Delight. We stopped there after dinner and the soft serve was incredible. I got a twist with rainbow sprinkles and Jim got a chocolate malt.

Art Institute of Chicago

Every trip I take to Chicago involves a stop at The Art Institute of Chicago. We went there first after we drove up on Friday. I loved this Bisa Butler exhibit with textiles capturing historical narratives of Black life (pictured above). I also took Jim to see the Chagall windows, one of my all-time favorite parts of the museum.

Daisies

If I could recommend one new Chicago restaurant for you to try, it would be Daisies. We had a great experience from start to finish. They make all their own pasta, and everything is fresh, seasonal, and delicious. I started with the chips and onion dip, which took me back to my childhood eating onion dip with potatoes chips, except these were way better. Then I got spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, and finished the meal with their famous gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. The cookie was exactly how it should be: crispy around the edges, warm and gooey in the middle. I’m tearing up a little thinking about it.

Lost Larson

I’ve wanted to visit Lost Larson for *years*, but I never made it because Chicago is huge and Lost Larson is in Andersonville, north of downtown and difficult to get to on public transportation. This time I had a car, so the morning we went to the beach, I made Jim stop at Lost Larson so we could get breakfast. I got the Swedish cardamom roll and an iced coffee. We ate them in the park near the lake. A woman walked by and said we looked French. Oui, madame.

Montrose Beach

Montrose Beach is one of my favorite beaches in Chicago. It’s big enough so you don’t feel like you have to sit right next to someone you don’t know, it’s beautiful, AND it’s a great middle ground between northern Chicago and downtown. Weirdly, online it says it opens at 11 AM, so I panicked a little because we got there at 10. But luckily it was open and already hopping. On the walk in, a random guy yelled out to me, “It opens at 11,” which stunned me for a second then irritated me. I’m reading a book about the patriarchy right now and I definitely have some thoughts about random men shouting out unnecessary/irritating/patronizing things at women. Don’t get me started.

While you’re at Montrose Beach, you should walk along Lakefront Trail and visit Montrose Pier. I had actually never done this before, but it was a great walk and had a beautiful view of downtown Chicago at the end.

Black Dog Gelato

After the beach, we drove over to Ukrainian Village to get gelato at Black Dog Gelato, one of my favorite places in Chicago. It’s owned by the daughter of one of my professors from grad school, so I found out about it shortly after I moved to the city. I used to go all the time when I lived in Chicago, but lately I only go back in the winter, so I haven’t been in years. I loved revisiting it and cooling down with some gelato after the beach.

Riverwalks

Everyone gets excited about Lake Michigan in Chicago, but one of the real attractions in my opinion is the Chicago River. It’s easy to ignore once you’ve lived there a while and it becomes a backdrop during your commute, but if you’re a visitor, you will be impressed by the views. I like to walk along the river near the River North neighborhood at night (see above). The city looks so beautiful lit up at night. You can watch boats go by and people partying on yachts and neighboring patios.

If you want somewhere a little quieter, head to Streeterville near Navy Pier during the day. There’s a River Esplanade park that is peaceful with nice shaded benches and great views of the river.

Lake Taxi

If you visit Navy Pier and want to get to the museums and attractions at the south end of the city, I’d highly recommend taking a water taxi. It’s way better than calling Uber or taking public transportation. We got tickets through Shoreline Sightseeing Chicago and rode all the way across Lake Michigan from Navy Pier to the Shedd Aquarium. They let you bring drinks on board, so I got a frozen margarita and drank it while we sat on the top level and watched the city go by. It was one of the highlights of our trip.

Kim and Carlo’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs

If you visit Chicago, it’s pretty much obligatory that you get a hot dog at some point. Don’t even *think* about putting ketchup on it. You will be exiled from the city immediately. A Chicago-style hot dog has pickles, mustard, onions, tomato, peppers, relish, and is served on a poppyseed bun. I had the best one of my life during this trip at Kim and Carlo’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs stand near the Shedd Aquarium. I wish I could go back and get another one right now.

Buckingham Fountain

Right when I thought I’d seen every tourist attraction in Chicago, I was proven wrong. I saw Buckingham Fountain during our water taxi ride. Located in the South Loop, it’s close to Lakefront Trail and all the museums. Sadly, I did not see Queen Elizabeth, but I get to bask in the beauty of the fountain, and I found a great popsicle vendor.

Mini Mott

I heard about Mini Mott through a St. Louis food writer who visits Chicago more often than I do. He posted some pics that made me want to visit. Their burgers are incredible. You can get a garlic butter burger (pictured left) or their classic that comes with sweet potato straws, pickles, miso butter, and spicy aioli. Don’t forget to get soft serve at the end. They rotate flavors seasonally. I got Belgian chocolate and peach swirl.

Beatrix

Our last morning in Chicago, Jim and I walked over to River North for breakfast at Beatrix. It’s located on one of my favorite streets in the city with a bunch of good restaurants and coffeeshops. I got these lemon ricotta pancakes with lemon syrup and they were incredible; light, fluffy, slightly sweet, and not too filling. They also had good fresh juice (not pictured).

Marcoot Jersey Creamery

At this point you’re probably thinking, your trip to Chicago was basically eating ice cream and hot dogs and not much else. You’re not wrong, but when you’re in a food city and driving through some of the best farmland in the country, what else can you expect? On the way home, we stopped somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while, Marcoot Jersey Creamery. Marcoot is well known in the St. Louis area for its fresh, artisan cheese and ice cream. We picked up a bunch of cheese to take home with us, and we finally got to try their homemade ice cream. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best ice cream I’ve ever had. I got the chocolate with Oreos and vanilla with cookie dough.

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New Mexico

To be honest with you, I didn’t think I was going to like New Mexico. I am a person who actively seeks out water. The closer I am to a beach, the happier I am. I couldn’t imagine liking a place where it’s generally dry and dusty.

Then I got to Santa Fe. My friend Stephanie invited me down for a week to stay with her at her parents’ house. I rented a car in Albuquerque and drove an hour north. I was so concentrated on the road, I didn’t notice my surroundings.

When I got to her parents’ house, I looked out from their patio and I couldn’t believe the beauty in front of me. I saw mountains in the distance, beautiful clouds, and striking colors like turquoise and green against the red-orange ground. I immediately understood why Santa Fe is known as an artists’ community. You don’t have to look far for inspiration.

The desert has a quiet beauty. It’s not like waves crashing against seaside rocks or a river churning between trees in a lush forest. It’s much more straightforward, but at the same time, it has its secrets. It reveals them to you in time, if you’re patient enough to look.

My first few hours in Santa Fe, I met a woman who worked at a store in town. She told me that Santa Fe is a healing place. After spending a week there, I believe her. The peaceful tranquility of the desert seemed to loosen me up everyday, until by the end, I couldn’t feel any more stress knots in my neck and shoulders. More importantly, it quieted my mind.

I also ate extremely well, which didn’t hurt the process. Eating a truly good meal is a transcendent experience. I’m lucky that I had so many of them in New Mexico.

Here are a few of the highlights from my trip. It’s not an exhaustive list; I left some important places out because I didn’t get pictures of the food or the destination. These are the places that made the biggest impression on me. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did:

Dale Ball Trails

There are so many good hikes in Santa Fe, but I chose Dale Ball Trails for a few reasons. First, it got overwhelmingly good reviews online and people said it was fairly easy. Two, the views looked incredible. Three, people also said it was a fairly populated trail, which is good when you’re a woman hiking alone. The reviews weren’t wrong; it was a gorgeous and simple trail that winded around a mountain. I loved seeing the desert flora and fauna. I’d recommend the trail to anyone looking for a good starter hike in Santa Fe.

Downtown Santa Fe

Downtown Santa Fe is very touristy, but it also has cute shops that are fun to peruse. My favorite was The Shop – A Christmas Store, which is pictured above. It was just so random and unexpected that it charmed me instantly. Plus, I love Christmas ornaments, so it was really my ideal shop. The guy at the counter told me the store has been in his family for more than 40 years.

Canyon Road

Canyon Road is the place in Santa Fe to go if you’re looking for art, jewelry, or vintage items. You can walk down either side of the street and pop into different shops. There’s art displayed on every corner and sidewalk. I liked browsing the galleries. I had lunch at The Teahouse, which has a beautiful patio that’s fun to sit on when it’s nice outside. Order the egg benedict and choose from a large selection of tea. I got mine iced because it was on the hotter side that day.

Sage Bakehouse

I read some good things about Sage Bakehouse before I visited Santa Fe, and they were confirmed when I stopped in for breakfast my first morning. The service at the counter was warm and friendly, and the pastries were delicious. I’d highly recommend the pecan braid (pictured top right). It hits the spot with a cup of coffee.

Meow Wolf

Meow Wolf really defies description. Picture a modern art gallery, interactive museum, and haunted house rolled into one, and you’ll get somewhere close to this place. At first I hated it because it was crowded and I’m still nervous about COVID/germs, but then I started to stray from the crowd and went at my own pace, and I liked it more. I’ve never been anywhere like it. I heard a man tell his wife that it feels like one long acid trip. Yes, sir.

Kakawa Chocolate House

Kakawa was one my favorite places I visited in Santa Fe. They’re known for their authentic drinking chocolate. I ordered a small cup of the chili drinking chocolate and I was in heaven. It was so rich and delicious, but also light enough where I didn’t feel bogged down like I sometimes do after drinking regular hot chocolate. Two days later I went back and got a large cup, and I got a box of homemade truffles to take back to Jim. Needless to say, we finished that box in a day when I got home.

Dolina Bakery & Cafe

I went to get pastries from Dolina early on in my trip. I didn’t realize it was essentially an Eastern European bakery. When I walked through the door, I saw tons of items in their pastry case that are familiar to me as a Jewish person with Eastern European origins. They had different delicacies from Poland, Hungary, and other countries. I didn’t get to try their sit-down breakfast, but I want to next time I’m in town. Beware of parking, though: It’s really difficult and you will probably have to go in a lot in the back of the bakery. I tried to park in an unmarked spot out front and got yelled at by the dry cleaners next door. Not very sweet of them…but at least I got pastries in the end.

Museum of International Folk Art

I was a little wary of the Museum of International Folk Art because I’m more of an explore-as-you-go type of person when I travel. I like museums, but they’re not always my first choice. However, I’d recommend this museum to anyone. It’s so colorful and thought provoking. There was an exhibit with folk art related to COVID-19 that I really liked. I also loved the room in the back with miniature scenes from different countries and cultures.

Prescott Gallery and Sculpture Garden

I read about Prescott Gallery and Sculpture Garden before I came to Santa Fe, and I knew immediately that I had to visit. It did not disappoint. It’s basically a long, one-story gallery filled with different moving sculptures depicting famous locations, and an outdoor sculpture garden you can walk through and see different sculptures of plants and animals. The people who run the gallery are friendly and gave me a water bottle, probably because I looked hot and dehydrated. I love that kind of personal attention when I travel.

Harry’s Roadhouse

When I was at Meow Wolf, a stranger came up to me when I was eating tacos at the food truck outside and struck up a conversation, and told me about Harry’s Roadhouse. I looked up the menu and decided to go for lunch a few days later. Honestly, it was the best lunch I had in Santa Fe. The stacked turkey enchiladas were divine, and my server was so nice and attentive. It’s one of those places that it perfect for single diners because people are nice and friendly, and you can sit on the patio outside, so you don’t feel like you’re stuck in the middle of a crowded dining room.

Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Going to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was a must for me during my trip. I also wanted to go see her ranch, but I think it was shut for COVID. Anyway, the museum was amazing and I’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Santa Fe. You get to rid about her life and art, and see many of her works including the cloud painting pictured above. I didn’t realize she painted pictures based on her views from airplanes.

Ten Thousand Waves

Ten Thousand Waves was definitely a highlight of my New Mexico trip. My friend Stephanie suggested that we go to the spa and rent a room, pictured above. It was so nice to be able to relax in the hot tub and sauna. I also liked that plunge bath on the far right and the outdoor shower. Then, a couple nights later, we went back to the restaurant there, Izanami, for dinner. Every dish was better than the one before it.

Santa Fe River

Although I’m sure no one would tell you to run to see the Santa Fe River, I would recommend stopping by if you’re in town. It was one of the more unexpected things I found during my trip. No, it’s not the Mississippi, not by a long shot. But it is beautiful in its own way and very peaceful. There’s a walking path along it so you can explore or just side beside it and relax and read.

Clafoutis

I celebrate Bastille Day by picking up lunch and a strawberry tart from Clafoutis, arguably the best French bakery in Santa Fe. One of the saleswomen at a shop I went to my first day recommended it, and I’m so glad she did. The strawberry tart was excellent. It reminded me of the days I would stop at the bakery in Paris for lunch.

Arable

If you’re looking for farm-to-table fare for dinner, definitely stop at Arable. The restaurant, which is a short drive away from downtown Santa Fe, has delicious dishes crafted with the freshest ingredients. Stephanie and I enjoyed everything, but some of my favorites were the wedge salad with bacon, jalapeño cornbread, and green chile cheese tots.

Madrid

Madrid is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. It’s a small down about 40 minutes south of downtown Santa Fe. You could miss it if you blinked, but you probably won’t blink because it’s so colorful and unusual. It’s an artists’ haven in the desert, and it has tons of personality. There are so many galleries, eateries, and shops to explore, but I would recommend The Mine Shaft Tavern for lunch (get the green chile burger), Java Junction for coffee and pastries, and Shugarman’s for homemade chocolate.

Don’t forget to check out my Instagram for more recommendations!

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Lemon Lavender Scones

Last weekend, Jim and I went to Long Row Lavender in Wright City, MO. It’s a cute little farm halfway between St. Louis and Columbia where you can pick your own lavender, take a stroll around the farm, and even get breakfast or lunch.

We had a great time picking lavender. We got there early and it was already crowded, but the rows are well spaced out and there’s plenty of lavender for everywhere. Also, we lucked out because the day before it was humid and more than 100 degrees F, but the morning we went, it was breezy and not so much like an oven.

My favorite things to do with lavender are put it in baked goods and lemonade. I started the weekend by making a lavender lemonade, and then Monday, I made these lemon lavender scones.

I riffed on a recipe I made a few years ago when I first made lavender scones. It’s funny looking back because the last time I made them was around the same time in 2017, when I bought a bunch of lavender at the Lake St. Louis Farmers’ Market. I made scones for me and Jim to take on our first date, an all-day fishing trip where I pretended like I wasn’t fazed by walking up and down a river for eight hours and ended up face planting on the way back. The face plant part actually felt great, though.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that you should make these scones immediately. They’re almost more like biscuits than scones because they’re so buttery and flaky. They’re also not too sweet, so you can feel really good about sprinkling extra sugar on top before you pop them in the oven to bake.

I ate some for three mornings straight for breakfast with a cup of coffee. I gave some to my old colleagues and got an email from one with the subject line, “OH MY GOSH!!” so that pretty much says it all.

Here’s a song to get you started on your lemon lavender scone journey.

Lemon Lavender Scones

Ingredients

2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
½ cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1¼ cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing
2 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp lavender buds, plus more for topping
zest of one lemon
turbinado sugar (for sprinkling)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk the baking powder, baking soda, salt. and flour together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the butter and mix until it’s coated. Then, use your fingers or a pastry cutter to break the butter up until it’s in pea-sized pieces.

Make a well in the center of the butter and flour mixture and add the egg, cream, lemon zest, honey, and lavender. Mix slowly with a paddle attachment until a shaggy dough forms. Do not overmix. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and knead it a few times of a floured surface until it comes together.

Pat the dough into a 1-inch thick round and then cut it into 8 equal triangles. Brush each scone with cream or milk, sprinkle generously with sugar, and sprinkle more lavender buds on top. Place the scones on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Enjoy!

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Cauliflower Frittata

I’m not going to lie to you; I was a little apprehensive while creating this cauliflower frittata. I’ve only grown to love cauliflower over the past few years, when I learned that adding spice and heat can turn a very bland vegetable into a recipe superstar. I’ve never used it in an egg dish, mostly because I didn’t think eggs and cauliflower went together.

I was wrong. Cauliflower is like potato’s lighter cousin in this dish. It’s very subtle but still adds texture and flavor. Especially when paired with the onions, it’s a power player that I would never substitute for another vegetable.

The key to this dish is cooking the cauliflower and onion low and somewhat slow. It will result in fork-tender cauliflower and soft, juicy onions that almost taste caramelized. After you’ve cooked your onion and cauliflower, you add your egg mixture, pop the skillet in the oven, and cook until the frittata is mostly set and golden brown.

If you’re not a fan of Gruyère cheese, you could always sub in another kind, but I’d recommend giving it a try. I like the way the sharp flavor of the Gruyère pairs with the more mellow cauliflower.

Also, it would probably be best to serve this frittata with a salad. I finally harvested some greens from my garden last night, so we had an extra fresh salad with dinner.

Here’s a song to get you started on your cauliflower frittata journey.

Cauliflower Frittata

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium cauliflower, finely chopped
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup (60 ml) room temp water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
9 large eggs
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
4 oz Gruyère cheese, grated
1 Tbsp chopped parsley

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F with a rack in the middle. Heat the olive oil in an oven-safe skillet (I used cast-iron) over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower, onions, water, a generous pinch of salt, and a smaller pinch of black pepper. Stir together. Cover the skillet and cook for about 14 minutes, and then cook uncovered for two minutes if the water hasn’t evaporated yet.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of pepper. Stir in the cheese and parsley. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet with your cauliflower and onions, making sure that the eggs are evenly distributed. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the frittata is mostly set and golden brown on top. Enjoy!

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Shrimp and Orzo

This post goes out to my friend Julicia, who asked me to share the recipe for shrimp and orzo a few weeks ago and had to suffer from my procrastination.

This one-pot shrimp and orzo is one of the best dinners I’ve made recently. It’s so easy, yet so delicious. I don’t know why I said “yet,” because in my experience, some of the simplest dishes are the most delicious.

The shrimp and orzo gets a big upgrade with from fresh parsley and lemon. Also, it helps to find the freshest shrimp possible. When you have good, fresh ingredients, you don’t need much else.

If you’re not an orzo fan, you could sub in rice, but I’d highly recommend that you give orzo a try. I love the texture, and it pairs well with the shrimp and herbs.

Here’s a song to get you started on your shrimp and orzo journey.

Shrimp and Orzo

Ingredients
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lemon, juiced and zested
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
kosher salt and pepper
1 cup orzo
2 Tbsp salted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/4 cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions


Combine the shrimp, olive oil, lemon juice and zest, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and some salt and pepper in a large bowl. Let it sit for about 10 minutes to marinate.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once melted, add the orzo and toss to coat. Stir the orzo frequently until it turns golden brown. Then add the second round of minced garlic and mix until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Pour the chicken stock into the skillet and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the orzo has absorbed all the liquid.

Once the liquid is gone, mix in the shrimp and cover the pot again. Cook for about another six minutes, or until the shrimp is pink and cooked through.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Enjoy!

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How to Use Puff Pastry

When I post pictures on Instagram of puff pastry tarts I make, I always get a friend or two who texts me and says, “I can’t believe you made that.” I also talk to friends who are scared of puff pastry and don’t think they can make anything with it at home.

I have a secret for you: You absolutely can. I use frozen puff pastry and it works every time. Puff pastry is one of the simplest ingredients to bake with. It is so easy, but it yields creations that look like you spent hours in the kitchen or years at culinary school.

The trick to puff pastry is to invest in a really good product. I usually buy Dufour from the frozen aisle at Whole Foods. It’s very high quality at a reasonable price point. You might say, um, how is $12 reasonable for a frozen product? That’s fair, but you’re paying for quality. Dufour’s puff pastry is lightly, flaky, and perfectly buttery. It’s basically as close as you can get to the puff pastry that pastry chefs make.

If you don’t want to shell out that kind of cash, you could also try Trader Joe’s frozen puff pastry. I’ve used that a few times and it’s still good, just not quite as good as Dufour.

The next trick to using puff pastry is to let it defrost appropriately. NEVER, and I mean never, let puff pastry defrost at room temp. You will be left with a soggy crust that’s gummy and inflexible. Instead, the night before you’re planning on using puff pastry, put it in the fridge. Let it sit there until you’re ready to use it the next day. The Dufour box says to let the crust defrost for three to four hours, but I like to let it defrost longer than that because sometimes, depending on how cold your fridge is, three hours isn’t enough.

When you’re ready to use the puff pastry, remove it from the box and place it on a lightly floured counter or work surface. Generally, you’ll have to unfold the pastry because it comes wrapped and folded up. Be very gentle when you’re unfolding it because it could rip.

Once the puff pastry is on the counter, you can spread whatever you like on top and put on fruit, veggies, etc. It’s really a blank canvas. I made this Asparagus and Goat Cheese Tart from New York Times Cooking earlier this week, and all I had to do once I unfolded my puff pastry was spread some custard on top, arrange asparagus, score the edges with a knife, and stick it in the oven.

Occasionally you’ll run across a recipe that asks for the puff pastry crust to be a bit longer and wider. It comes in a 13-by-11-inch rectangle, which is usually big enough, but depending on what you’re making, you might have to roll it out. Proceed the same way you would with a a pie crust, rolling it out on a lightly floured surface, but just make sure you don’t put too much pressure on the puff pastry with the rolling pin. That’s how it will start to spread too thin and rip.

A couple last pieces of advice: Generally, it’s good to score the tart before you bake it. You can do it around the edges using the tip of a sharp knife, or sometimes you can lightly score the bottom of the tart before you put on the topping. Just make sure there’s a way for some air to get out while the pastry, well, puffs.

Second, once the tart comes out of the oven, let it deflate for about 15 minutes. Don’t try to force it down with a kitchen utensil, even if you’re really impatient or hungry. Like many great things, puff pastry requires time and patience.

Here are some of my favorite recipes with puff pastry. Also, here’s a song to get you started on your puff pastry journey. Enjoy!:

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