Thursday, July 5, 2012

this blog has a new home

Hi there -

Are you looking for more of my food and wine recommendations?  I'm still around, but have moved the content from this blog over to my new website: How Sweet Life Is

You can find my favorite recipes for sweets under the "sweetest creations" category and read more about my foodie travel adventures under the "sweetest adventures" category over at

Now, you don't want to miss my new posts!  Be sure to add your email to my list of followers when you visit my new blog.

{Have Food, Will Travel!}


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day Ideas

It's been a while since I last posted something in my 'Diary'.  I thought I'd take advantage of the upcoming Valentine's Day 'holiday', and recommend a few spots I've enjoyed in the past.  Good luck trying to get into one of these hot spots this weekend!

Tres Romantique -- Coup des Tartes
Victor took me here last year, to celebrate my birthday.  The mood is very intimate and cozy, and the service is great as well.  The food was simple, yet elegantly presented and tasted delicious.  The highlight of our dinner was the warm chocolate cake the waiter brought us for dessert.  The memory was captured forever with a complimentary photo they took of us that night.

Churros and Sangria, Anyone? -- Barrio Cafe
On a much simpler, much more relaxed note, this is a great spot for dessert or pre-dinner drinks.  They have the best sangria in town, and it is best served with their warm churros filled with caramel sauce.  This is a great spot to start, or finish, the evening.

More Swank for Your Buck -- The Mission
I only needed to go once to declare this one of my favorite spots serving Mexican food.  The decor is glamorous, even swanky, one would say.  What's great about the experience is not only how beautifully their food is presented, but also how it tastes just as great as it looks.  The chef is influenced greatly by French cooking, and this is obvious in the delicate sauces that balance his dishes and bring out the flavors in all his plates.  This is the spot we're hoping to get back into on Sunday, if we're lucky.

Great Sunday Brunch - T. Cooks at the Royal Palms
This is a great spot for brunch, and is often voted one of the most romantic restaurants in the area.  I read somewhere that wedding proposals are all too common here, so ladies  On a more serious note, this is one of those places where everything is perfect, every time.  You will be treated as if you're the only table your waiter has, and the food will be awesome, no matter what you order.  I find this to be one of the few expensive restaurants in town where you actually feel like the food and service are worth the higher cost.  Also, take time to enjoy the beautiful outdoor seating area while you're there.  It is made for lingering...

I hope I've given you enough ideas to put together a nice day out with your Valentine this year.  We are keeping it low-key this year.  Brunch and a movie is the way to go, for us. 

Have a sweet Valentine's Day and feel free to share your favorite spots and experiences, too.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Santa Barbara Highlights

We recently took a road trip to California, for a long weekend, to soak in some time to relax before the babies are born. We were also looking to escape to cooler weather...which was not the case, since there was a bit of a heat wave (in the 80's)while we were there.

During our trip, we stayed in Carpinteria, and drove over to Santa Barbara several times (about 15 minutes away) as well as visited Goleta, Solvang and the Santa Ynez valley. Each of these places were so different from one another, and we loved each and every one of them.

Carpinteria is known as home to the 'world's safest beach', and is a quiet beach town with a few quaint eateries and boutiques near the coast. Santa Barbara, on the other hand, is a lot more metropolitan and has a vibrant downtown scene, with the coast nearby as well as nice restaurants and plenty of familiar stores to shop in. Santa Barbara is known as the 'American Riviera'.

While in Carpinteria and Santa Barbara, we dined at the following notable establishments:

Gianfranco's Trattoria - Serves great Italian food, in a cozy atmosphere; I ordered their signature spinach and cheese ravioli and loved it.
Foster's Freeze - Local ice cream shop; we ate here one night when we were too full to eat a proper dinner; I had a hot dog and strawberry shake (which was superb!)

Santa Barbara
Jane - Our favorite restaurant of the ones we tried. Warm atmosphere, great food and great service; I was lucky enough to find veal on the menu and loved it -- had the veal scallopini.
Brophy Bros Seafood - Great spot for fresh seafood, right on the harbour; I ordered the fish and chips and needed help finishing it! Very good batter on the fish.

Crushcakes - Organic cupcakes! I ordered (and loved) the Strawberry Blush -- a strawberry cupcake topped with pink strawberry frosting.
McConnell's Ice Cream - Handmade ice cream served in very generous scoops! I barely finished one scoop of Peanut Butter Crunch in a waffle bowl.
Spoon Gelato - Excellent gelato; plenty of flavors to choose from. I tried the hazelnut and loved it!

We also ventured out to Goleta for their Annual Lemon Festival, where Vic tried a variety of local wines and lemon beer while I indulged in a decadent slice of lemon meringue pie. The next day we drove through beautiful landscapes and mountains to Solvang, a small town which was founded by Danish settlers and looks like it was taken right out of Denmark and placed in the California highlands. I tried the traditional Danish 'Aebleskiver' pancakes for breakfast, which are basically round balls of batter covered in powdered sugar, and served with fresh preserves.

After a brief tour of Solvang, we visited the Bridlewood Winery in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley. The property is magnificent and so beautiful. We took a tour via horse-driven carriage and purchased a nice bottle of Syrah, which is the grape they most pride themselves in harvesting.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Featured Recipe: Nutty Carrot Cake

I made this cake for Victor's recent birthday. It took a while to make (mostly due to my current pregnant state) but was a huge hit with everyone! I hope you enjoy this recipe.

Nutty Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Serves 8 to 10

Carrot Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups corn oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups grated carrot, about 2 large carrots
2 jars (4 ounces each) carrot puree (baby food)
2 cups toasted pecans, chopped (reserve 1 cup for decorating)

Cream Cheese Icing
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
12 ounces cream cheese (at room temperature)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line two 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper circles, and butter and flour each pan.

Toast the whole pecans for 10 minutes at 350 degrees. Chop once cooled, for use in the recipe.

To make the cake:
Sift together the flour, granulated sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and kosher salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, and vanilla and add to the dry ingredients. Beat on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the grated carrot, carrot puree, and chopped pecans and mix until just incorporated.
Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans and bake until a knife or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating halfway through the process for even baking. [Note: Mine were done in exactly 40 minutes, so set your timers accordingly to avoid overcooking.] Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool completely. Invert onto the wire rack after 15 - 20 minutes, and peel the parchment paper off once cakes are completely cooled.

Note: If you would like to save the cakes for frosting later, wrap each cake tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until you are ready to frost them.

To make the icing:
Sift the powdered sugar into a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together at medium speed the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and kosher salt, scraping down the sides of the bowl at least once, until the mixture is smooth, with no lumps, about 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the powdered sugar and beat until light, fluffy, and well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl halfway through.
To assemble, place one cake, flat-side up, on a platter. Spread part of the icing over the top of the cake. Top with the second cake, flat-side up, and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate with the remaining 1 cup of chopped pecans, as desired.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Featured Recipe: Chicken Piccata

This is one of my favorite chicken dishes when I'm on the road, since it's so light and simply delicious -- so I never feel too guilty eating this late at night! I've tried a few versions of this recipe, and this is my favorite--from the queen of Everyday Italian: Giada De Laurentiis. You'll love making this if you consider yourself a cooking novice, and are looking to make a tasty meal under 30 minutes. Served best over linguini. Happy cooking!

Chicken Piccata
Recipe courtesy Giada De Laurentiis
Featured on the Food Network

2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, butterflied and then cut in half
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
All-purpose flour, for dredging
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup brined capers, rinsed
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour and shake off excess.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 3 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add 2 pieces of chicken and cook for 3 minutes. When chicken is browned, flip and cook other side for 3 minutes. Remove and transfer to plate. Melt 2 more tablespoons butter and add another 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter and oil start to sizzle, add the other 2 pieces of chicken and brown both sides in same manner. Remove pan from heat and add chicken to the plate.

Into the pan add the lemon juice, stock and capers. Return to stove and bring to boil, scraping up brown bits from the pan for extra flavor. Check for seasoning. Return all the chicken to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove chicken to platter. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter to sauce and whisk vigorously. Pour sauce over chicken and garnish with parsley.

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Cupcakes Galore

I'm ready. I've been baking cupcakes for a while now, and am now ready to take it to the next level. Inspiration: the Food Network's Barefoot Contessa meets the lovely Martha Stewart. Hey, why not, right?

I would say I started baking cupcakes because they are the easiest (mess-free) way to serve a group without having to deal with the whole 'cut and serve' process that comes with a traditional cake. My favorite cupcake (so far) is my coconut cupcake (see photo), and I love it so much I needed to see if I could make it better...which I did, when I decided to add pineapples to it --this idea turned out to be a huge hit -- and thus was born my first original creation: the pina colada cupcake.

My mantra when it comes to cupcakes is keep it simple, keep it pretty, and it keep it sweet! I am going to start playing with some new flavors now, as well as continue to refine the flavors I've made in the past -- chocolate ganache, carrot cake, vanilla, and of course coconut! I'm excited to explore new ideas for inspiration, from my newest cook book 'Martha Stewart's Cupcakes'. I just got this for my birthday from my oh-so-thoughtful husband.

I hope you enjoy sharing this journey with me, as well as an actual cupcake here and there from my many future batches. I look forward to expanding my collection under Sweet Creations - my new sweets venture.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Our Spring Wine Tasting Party

Our Menu:

Featured Wine
Sauvignon Blanc

Cheese Platter
French Brie, with Guava Jelly
Spanish Manchego, with Fig Spread

Small Bites
Crispy Coconut Shrimp
Cheese-Filled Dates, wrapped in Prosciutto

Main Dish
Spanish Paella Valenciana

French Vanilla Ice Cream Topped with Chocolate Port

Results (Based on 10 Point Scale)

  • First Place, 8.1 Points
  • Kim Crawford 2008, Marlborough Region (New Zealand) $16.99

  • Second Place, 7.0 Points
  • Nobilo 2008, Marlborough Region (New Zealand) $11.99

  • Third Place, 6.9 Points
  • Kendall Jackson 2007, California Region $11.99

  • Last Place (of 11), 4.9 Points
  • Nobilo 2006 Marlborough Region (New Zealand) $18.99