Enjoy! Because life is too short to deprive the palate!


Creamy Tomato Soup with Three Cheese Crostini

The cold weather is finally here and I am more than ecstatic to break out my peacoat, my boots, and most importantly my soup pot! I look forward to soup season and sweaters in the way that normal people look to summer vacations, and beach getaways. I simply adore  the way curling up under a blanket feels when the world around you is frozen. The way the cold kisses noses and makes them red. And the way that a warm cup of anything never achieves its full potential until it is consumed in an icy environment!

Whenever I need an escape from the winter chill, a sense of nostalgia, or something to warm my insides, my mind goes directly to hot creamy tomato soup. I've been making this recipe for the last 5 years and my taste buds still delight over the first bite every time. This recipe is quick and simple and 100 times better than anything that will ever come out of a can. Andy Warhol would agree.

In celebration of the start of Soup Season, here's a twist on the Campbell's classic- sure to warm even the most chill-worthy day. 

Creamy Tomato Soup
  • 4 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 2 Celery Stalks, diced with leaves
  • 3/4 cup Shallots, diced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 28oz Can Diced Tomatoes, plus juice
  • 2 cups Chicken Stock, canned or homemade recipe here
  • 2 cups Half-and-Half
  • 1 tsp Marjoram, freshly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp Thyme, fresh or dried
  • Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
*In a large saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the celery and stir, allowing it to soften, approximately 1-2 minutes. Mix in the garlic and shallots, continuing to stir frequently until soft, about 2 minutes. 

*Sprinkle the flour over the celery mix, coating the vegetables entirely. Pour in the tomatoes and their juices, the half-and-half, the chicken stock, the marjoram, and the thyme. Stir well and increase the heat to high. Bring to a 30 second boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer. Allow to simmer and thicken for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

To Serve: Salt and Pepper to taste and ladle into bowls. Top with a sprig of thyme and pair with hot out-of-the-oven Three-Cheese Crostinis.

Three Cheese Crostinis
  • 1/2 loaf of Artisan Baked Bread (I use a Garlic & Rosemary Loaf from Costco.)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup Gruyere Cheese, freshly grated
  • 1/2 cup Smoked Gouda, freshly grated
  • Paprika
  • Italian Seasoning

*Slice the bread into long, thin pieces. Sprinkle with the cheeses, adding the parmesan last. Top with a shake of paprika and a dash of italian seasoning. 

*Spread the slices onto a foil lined baking sheet, place in the oven and broil on high until cheese has melted and the bread has browned, about 2 minutes. Broil longer if bread is not yet crispy and golden. 

To Serve: Carefully remove crostinis from the oven and serve hot alongside a steaming bowl of creamy tomato soup. 

You can really use any three of your favorite cheeses for this recipe. I like to switch it up with various cow's milk swiss cheeses and sharp cheddars. Also, play with the bread; a ciabatta or focaccia crisp up nicely as well.

With winter approaching and the cold weather rolling in, this recipe is sure to come in handy; so break out your warm fuzzy socks, your down blankets, and your firewood, then take the heat to the next level and warm your soul with a piping hot bowl of creamy tomato soup! 

Enjoy :]

<3 Marea


Grouse & Feta Salad, Asian-Style Duck over Warmed Cabbage, & The MPLS Taste Event

I recently had the pleasure of spending several wonderful days on vacation, visiting my best friend. Not only did I get to cook grouse for the first time (think chicken meets quail and you'll find the taste of grouse somewhere in the middle) but I was also able to attend The Minneapolis Taste Event, the twin cities ultimate Wine and Dine Experience.

This event boasted over 300 exclusive wines and 40 of Minneapolis' top chefs, as well as wine seminars, grilling stages, and several culinary demonstrations. The VIP Lounge was complete with crab cakes and chocolate fountains, as well as an especially unique pairing of gelatin shots, made with elderflower and ginger, that broke open when you bit into them, oozing a sweet alcoholic syrup that enveloped the taste buds. It was quite interesting to see so many of my local Northern California Vineyards mingling with blends from America's Dairyland and the Twin Cities. I definitely recommend attending if ever you have the chance!

On my last night in Wisconsin, Tayler and I celebrated by cooking up a homemade feast, tapas style, with steamed mussels, a grouse and feta salad, fresh bruschetta (recipe coming soon!), and asian-style duck served over warmed cabbage leaves. We toasted with lemon drop martinis and ended the evening with dessert drinks and homemade Honey Goat-Cheese Mini Cheesecakes (recipe coming soon!). An oddly paired myriad of flavors but a definite fun experience for the palate, and a great way to end a fabulous getaway.

Grouse & Feta Salad
  • 1 Breast of Grouse, skinned
  • 2 cups Fresh Arugula & Spring Mix Lettuce
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive Tapenade: blend: 2 oz sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil) with 1/2 cup black olives, 1 tbsp. fresh basil, 1/2 cup capers, 1/2 tsp parmesan cheese, and 1 garlic clove. Add Pepper to taste.
  • Juice from 1-2 Lemon Wedges
  • 1 tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Cherry Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Feta Crumbles
  • Sea Salt and Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, to taste
*Marinate the grouse in sea salt, garlic powder, and freshly cracked black pepper for 30 minutes. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced fresh garlic, shaking the pan vigorously to keep the garlic from burning, approximately 30 seconds. Turn the heat to high and add the grouse, searing 1-2 minutes on each side depending on thickness. Check center of breasts to ensure they are a light pink, and cooked through. Remove from heat. Slice into thin strips. 

*Lay out a bed of the arugula and lettuce mix on a serving plate. Toss with 1 tbsp of the tapenade. Add the grouse and spread the remaining tbsp of tapenade across the meat. Sprinkle the cherry tomatoes and feta across the top. Squeeze the lemon wedges over the salad and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. 

Asian-Style Duck over Warmed Cabbage Leaves
  • 2 Duck Breasts, skinned, bone-in
    • Sauce: 4 Tbsp Soy Sauce, 2 Tbsp Honey, 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil, 3 garlic cloves pressed, 2 tsp Bragg's Amino Acids, 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1 Tbsp White Wine Vinegar, 1 tsp Ginger Powder,  Sea Salt, and Pepper to taste.
      • Separate sauce into two portions. Marinate the duck breasts in half of the mixture, and reserve the rest for topping.
  • 1/2 head of Cabbage, cut and cored
  • 1/2 cup Low-Sodium Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Sugar
  • 1 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
  • 1/4 cup diced Vidalia Onion
  • 2 cloves Garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil
*Lightly salt and pepper the duck breasts on all sides. In a large bowl marinate the duck breasts in half of the sauce for at least 30 minutes but up to 3 hours. Prep the cabbage and combine the chicken broth, salt, sugar, and butter in a large saucepan or steamer. If using a saucepan, add the cabbage and bring to a hard boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and allow to cook until cabbage is tender, but still firm, approximately 6-12 minutes. Strain and set aside. 

*In a frying pan, heat the coconut oil over high heat until sizzling. Stir in the onions and let sweat for 1 minute, shaking the pan consistently. Add the minced garlic and the duck. Sear  each side quickly on high heat. Reduce to medium-low, add any extra sauce from the bowl the duck was previously marinating in, plus 1 cup of water, cover and let cook for 2 minutes. Remove cover, check centers, and fry over medium until cooked to your taste, 3-7 minutes. Remove from heat, debone, and slice in thin strips.

*Place the warmed cabbage onto your serving plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper, to taste. Layer the strips of duck meat across the cabbage and drizzle the reserved sauce over the top. Finish with a sprinkling of red pepper flakes and serve immediately. 

Both these dishes are excellent on their own but would pair well with other like-flavored dishes as well. I suggest the grouse salad as a companion to a hearty soup or sandwiches on fresh baked bread. It is also ideal as a dinner party starter. The Duck would pair excellently with other honey-glazed steamed root vegetables and can be made with the skin-on for a richer, more filling meal. 

For the recipes to our Lemon Drop Martinis, and Dessert Drinks Click Here!


<3 Marea

Cocktails! Rockin' Lemon Drop Martinis & After-Dinner Dessert Chocotinis

On my last day of vacation, my best friend Tayler and I frequented a few speciality shops as I was determined to return from America's Dairyland with a generous supply of local cheeses, and other various gifts. During our shopping extravaganza we stumbled upon some bottles of ChocoVine- The taste of dutch chocolate and red wine. I had tried this concoction once before and was reminded of my urge to use it in a chocolate martini. Tayler was instantly game so we picked up a bottle and added dessert drinks to our list of events for the evening.  
As far as the lemon drops were concerned; I myself am an avid fan of Gin, but for the sake of doing something different I decided to indulge in one of Tayler's favorite cocktails- The Lemon Drop Martini. However, with one small change: I've been dying to put pop rocks on a martini ever since I first fell in love with the idea while visiting my old roommate in Salem, Massachusetts. Now I can finally say I have officially succeeded! Taking a note from Tayler's Lemon Drop expertise, these martinis are made with a turbinado sugar and agave simple syrup, rendering them slightly less sweet but equally as delicious!

Rockin' Lemon Drop Martinis
  • Simple Syrup-
    • Dissolve 1 tsp of turbinado sugar and 1 tsp of agave in 2 oz Hot Water. Sweeten if needed until desired taste is achieved. Let cool. 
  • 1 1/2 Oz Citron Vodka
  • Ice Cubes
  • 1 Packet Pop Rocks, whichever flavor you so desire
  • 1 Lemon, cut into wedges
  • Martini Shaker and Martini Glass
*Fill a martini shaker with ice. Add 1 shot of the simple syrup and the vodka. Shake well. Squeeze in 2 lemon wedges and shake. Pour the pop rocks onto a small plate. Trace the rim of the martini glass with a lemon wedge, and then dip the edges of the glass into the pop rocks, coating the entire rim. Add the remaining pop rocks to the bottom of the glass. Give the martini shaker one more shake and pour over the pop rocks. Garnish with a lemon wedge. 

If you are having trouble getting the pop rocks to stick, try lining the rim of the glass with simple syrup! 

This next drink was formally cultivated by Miss Tayler Sipe, and let me tell you, sweet tooth or not, it is quite divine!

ChocoVine Chocotinis
  • 1 1/2 Oz ChocoVine Chocolate Wine 
  • 1 1/2 Oz Vodka
  • 3/4 Oz (or 1/2 Shot glass) French Vanilla Kahlua
  • 3/4 Oz Milk or Cream
  • Blend: 1 tsp Cocoa Powder with 1/2 tsp Fine Sugar, and a dash of cinnamon
  • Martini Shaker and Martini Glass
  • Ice Cubes
  • Simple Syrup 
*Fill a Martini Shaker with ice. Add the ChocoVine, vodka, Kahlua, and Milk. Shake well. Coat the edges of a martini glass with simple syrup and then rim with cocoa and sugar blend. (Follow the same steps as above coating the edges). Pour the mix from the martini shaker into the glass and sprinkle the remaining cocoa blend across the top. 

And there you have it! Two Cocktails, two varying degrees of sweetness, and two easy ways to dress up any occasion! 

Each recipe makes one Martini.

Enjoy :] 

<3 Marea


Four-Layer Red Velvet Chocolate Cake with Mascarpone Frosting

In honor of the return of the most bizarrely lovable mass-murderer, i.e. Dexter, I naturally decided to bake an aptly colored cake. Enter The Red Velvet Chocolate Cake, a vibrantly colored classic delight. Great for the holiday's, celebrations, or as a stunning after-dinner centerpiece to sweetly finish-off any dinner party. 

You will need two 9 inch round cake pans lined with wax or parchment paper and lightly greased with butter. Wire Cooling racks and tin foil or plastic wrap are also needed. 

Red Velvet Chocolate Cake
  • 2 1/2 cups Cake Flour, Sifted
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 3 Tbsp Cocoa Powder
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Milk + 1 Tbsp Distilled White Wine Vinegar (pre-mix and let sit)
  • 2 Tbsp Red Food Coloring
  • 1 tsp Distilled White Wine Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
*Begin by preparing your cake pans and preheating your oven to 350 degrees.                  
*In a medium bowl, combine the sifted flour, the salt, and the cocoa powder. Set aside. 

*Using a hand-held mixer or a KitchenAid, beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and continue mixing until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, along with the vanilla. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl to ensure everything is being equally combined. 

*In a separate bowl, whisk the pre-mix of milk and vinegar with the food coloring. Return to your butter mixture and slowly add the flour mix and the red mix, alternating between the two, and beginning with the flour. Whisk on low until well combined. 

*In a small cup, add the baking powder and vinegar and allow to fizz. Mix into your batter and immediately transfer to baking pans. Divide the batter equally among the pans and smooth the top with a baking spatula or wooden spoon. 

*Place in the oven and bake 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on wire racks for 30 minutes. After approximately 15 minutes remove the cakes from the pans and continue to cool on the racks. When entirely cooled, wrap in tin foil or plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour but preferably overnight. 

Mascarpone Frosting
  • 8 oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
  • 8 oz Mascarpone 
  • 2 tsp Vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Powdered Sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2 Tbsp Shredded Coconut 
*Using a hand-held mixer or KitchenAid, beat the cream cheese and mascarpone until soft. Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar, mixing well. Fold in the whip cream and then whisk lightly until frosting is thick and creamy. 

To Serve: Using a serrated knife, slice the cakes horizontally to create four layers. Place one layer, bottom up on a serving platter and frost the top. Stack the next layer on top, pressing the frosting between the two pieces, and frost the top of that layer. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of shredded coconut between the second and third layers. Repeat until all four layers have been stacked and frosted. Now frost the sides, spinning the plate to create a smooth, polished finish. Top with the remaining tbsp of coconut and decorate however your heart desires! 

Press crushed pecans into the sides of the cake, top with fresh raspberries or strawberries, speckle with sprinkles, spell out your lover's name with decorative icing, or even make a particularly disturbing design for a television show premiere; the finishing touches are up to you!

Enjoy :]


 *This post is linked to Mangoes and Chutney's for Fat Camp Friday

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