Holiday Cinnamon Sangria and an Ode to my Philadelphia Idol

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A few months back, I was enjoying lunch with a co-worker at the Cira Center in Philadelphia, when my idol walked through the door of JG Domestic. An avid Jose Garces fan (this is probably an understatement, but I’m trying to play it cool in case JG himself ever miraculously finds himself at PTTP), I’ve been working my way through his restaurants since I began receiving paychecks in the fall of 2008. Most women in Philadelphia troll the streets hoping for a glimpse of Chase Utley or Ryan Howard (okay, fine, I’m guilty of that too)—but me…I get giddy at the sight at a different type of Philadelphia idol: Jose Garces, Stephen Starr, Marc Vetri. In my mind, I coolly got up from my table, shook his hand, and told him how much I appreciate his food. When my coworker broke me out of my daze to ask if I was choking, I realized that was not exactly how it happened. But that’s how I choose to tell this story.

While there are many things that frustrate me about the city of Philadelphia–the wage tax, the disappointment that surrounds the Eagles, the fact that they’ve banned drinking coffee on the PATCO line but evidently not urinating on it–the Philadelphia restaurant scene has always been source of excitement and inspiration for me. And at the center of that resides Jose Garces. I’ve found myself in a pattern when it comes to exploring his repertoire of restaurants. Go to Amada. Try a new one. Go back to Amada. Try a new one. Go back to Amada… Don’t get me wrong. They’re all fabulous. It’s embarrassing to eat with me at any Garces restaurant, as I gush over every bite and bounce anxiously in my seat as I await the next tapas treat. But Amada. Mmmm Amada. I was enamored by it from my first visit a few winters back, and I know why. The Tinto Sangria. At Amada, the sangrias change with the seasons, and on this wintery night I found myself sipping the most delicious little blend of apple, orange, cinnamon, and lightly spiced wine. It was slightly dry, slightly sweet, slightly spicy and entirely perfect. For every holiday since, I’ve made my own little version of this festively wonderful concoction to share with family and friends. And this Christmas, I’ve decided to share it further. Continue reading

Toasted S’mores Layer Cake

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I know I said in my last post that I haven’t had time for baking. That wasn’t a lie, I swear. I made this cake for Thanksgiving. So apparently, not only have I not had time to bake, I also haven’t had time to blog! I know what you’re thinking…and yes, you got me. Pinterest releasing secret boards has interfered a bit. What can I say, it takes a lot of time to plan 7 secret weddings. But now that I’ve pinned every single image that I was too embarrassed to pin for the public, I’m back in full force. And with that, I give you this.

I know, I know. It’s not seasonal. “S’mores were so last summer.” But I’ve learned that not everyone loves pumpkin. [I know. I don’t understand it either.] And since my other Thanksgiving offering this year was about as Seasonal as a dessert can get (Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake in a Gingerbread crust), I was willing to give into the temptation of marshmallow, chocolate, and grahams as my second Thanksgiving dessert. Continue reading

Mason Jar and Snowball Christmas Centerpiece

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Christmas is here! Christmas is here! Most years, I decorate for Christmas on November 1st. Yes, I’m one of those people. I do at least 4 rounds of Christmas baking, because the cookies get eaten or become stale before I can bring them to holiday parties. I buy gifts, return gifts, and buy new gifts because I’m so sad that my holiday shopping is done.

But this year…well this year is different. It was 60 degrees yesterday…in Philadelphia…in December. I’ve been working nonstop with little time for holiday fun. I’ve purchased every gift online and haven’t even opened the packages to ensure they’re the right gifts. And baking? I haven’t even had time for break and bake cookies. But I refuse to let a busy work schedule interfere any further. And so tonight (approximately 36 days late, in my book) Christmas season commences. Continue reading

Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Gratin

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I know I did. This was the first Thanksgiving in six years that neither my sister nor I went overboard during Thanksgiving Eve bar festivities, which meant we were sober and raring to go by brunch time on Thanksgiving Day. I arrived to my parents’ house around 11am and was welcomed by a big mimosa with what is apparently my ghetto-name-generator name on it, courtesy of my mature big sister (yes, that says ass machine teapot). This probably gives you more than enough insight into what the holidays are like with my crazy family. Continue reading

Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake with a Gingerbread Cookie Crust

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This pumpkin swirl cheesecake officially marks the start of the holiday baking season in my house [and also officially marks my return to the gym after a not-so-brief leave]. A lot of people shy away from making cheesecake at home, because they think its a complicated or temperamental process. This recipe is actually about five times easier than baking a cake and making icing. The hardest part is not eating the batter with the raw eggs in it. As a classic rule follower, you’d think I’d know better than to eat raw batter. But no. I think I’ve suffered from self-induced salmonella at least twice in the past two years. If there is cream cheese and sugar in a bowl, my self-control plunges.

With two days before the holiday season, I’m in full out prep mode. This year I’m making a cheese tray, winter sangria, two side dishes, and two desserts to bring with me to my parent’s house on Thursday. I’ll be sharing all of the recipes over the next week or so, but I wanted to get you something delicious before Thanksgiving in case you’re scouring the internet tonight for a dessert that will put those store-bought pies on the table to shame.

The crust of this cheesecake is probably worth a million calories alone. Using gingerbread cookies in place of graham crackers for the crust really elevates the taste of the cheesecake. The gingerbread/pumpkin combination works incredibly well together and because gingerbread cookies are a bit firmer than graham crackers, the crust stays nice and crisp. I provide instructions at the bottom for how to properly freeze and thaw cheesecakes, if you’re looking to make these in advance to use as gifts throughout the holiday season. Continue reading

Ricotta Stuffed Baked Tomatoes

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , ,

If you’re tired of the same old sides on your Thanksgiving table, look no further.

Most people either love or hate tomatoes. I’ve always been a bit hazy on where I stand. If you put an heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad in front of me, you’d think I was eating gold. If you put a tomato on my hamburger, I’ll cast it aside like its road kill. It’s always been a bizarre love hate relationship for me and tomatoes. I’m still not sure where I draw the line. But I am sure that I LOVE these tomatoes.

I have been counting down the days to Thanksgiving for about a month now—not because I particularly love turkey, but because I need a day off of work in the worst way. If you’re like me and plan on relieving all of your anxiety this holiday season by camping out by the dessert table, you’re going to need to make sacrifices somewhere. Why not swap out that horrendously perverted green bean casserole for these healthy stuffed tomatoes. (I love green bean casserole. I really do. But how on earth can you make a vegetable dish that unhealthy? I’m a firm believer that anything with that much fat and calories should at least have some form of chocolate and cream cheese in it.) Continue reading