Friday, March 21, 2014

Cider Baked Apples

I absolutely quit life. Seriously. Over the past month or so, I've been doing my best to work out, lose some weight and stay active. Every now and then I decide to reward myself with one delicious treat so I'm not craving sweets like a mad man and eating my refrigerator down. Because fall is my favorite season and we're quite a ways away from it, this dessert totally hit the spot. Again, I quit. As my mother would say, "these are sinful!"...

Because these apples only take about 15 full minutes to prepare, you can have these up and running in no time. These, without a doubt, will become a comfort food staple for me from now on. My grandmother used to make something deliciously similar but, for reference, I used another recipe (HERE) and formulated my own.

Moving forward with the recipe, I opted to use 6 large honeycrisp apples and found that, although it was recommended that you begin at 45 minutes on 400˚ F, the apples really only began to show signs of browning and softening at around that time. I cooked them for just about an hour and 15 minutes, continuing to spoon the delicious bourbon cider mixture over them and, when they were finished, the skin had torn, the fruit was exposed and the bourbon cider mixture took on a more syrupy consistency. This dessert is absolutely delicious - they are quite the presentation on their own and, topped with cinnamon bun ice cream, make you feel a bit of that childhood nostalgia with flavors of a traditional apple crisp.

Cider Baked Apples
Serves 6

• 6 Large Honeycrisp Apples
• 2/3 Cup Quick Oats
• 2/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
• 1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
• 1 Tsp Cinnamon
• 1/4 Tsp Seal Salt
• 1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter (Softened)
• 1 Tbsp Pure Vanilla Extract
• 1 1/2 Cup Apple Cider
• 1/3 Cup Bourbon (Or Spiced Rum)

1. Preheat your oven to 400º F. Using a pairing knife or an apple corer, remove the core of your honeycrisp apples, removing all of the seeds and allowing about 1/3 of the apple to remain. Keep in mind - the more of the apple that you remove, the more of the delicious, crumbly filling you'll be able to stuff in.
2. Combine your oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, butter and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl until the mixture resembles the topping of an apple crisp - slightly crumbly. Using a spoon (or your hands), fill each apple with the filling. Place the apples in a large baking tray.
3. Combine your cider and your bourbon or spiced rum and pour the liquid into the bottom of the baking tray. Place the apples in the oven and set your timer for 70-75 minutes, depending upon apple size. Every 10 minutes or so, open your oven door, slide the baking tray out slightly and spoon the cider/bourbon or spiced rum mixture over each apple. This allows the skin to caramelize and the flavor of the cider/bourbon to penetrate the apples.
4. Remove from the heat and serve with a scoop of your favorite vanilla bean, or in my case, cinnamon bun ice cream. Watch your family absolutely devour these and keep this recipe bookmarked for a quick go-to all-american comfort dessert. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Salted Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

I mean, I don't really have words for the amount of delicious that's right here. These cookies are seriously sinful, worth every single calorie and ounce of guilt that you receive after just having one. And therein lies the issue. ...Who could have just one?

Adapted from Sydney's fabulous, "The Crepes Of Wrath" (HERE), one of my absolutely favorite food blogs to follow, I saw these just over a year ago and began making them for dinner parties just before I left for rehearsals last June. Truthfully, I'd researched and followed a few cookie recipes, aiming for a new staple go-to chocolate chip cookie but none were nearly as perfect as these. Moist, chewy, salty and chocolately... my mouth is watering just looking at the photo above. Hmmm. To make another batch? ...Self-control, Brett. Self-control.

Seriously though. Every ingredient in these cookies works in complete harmony. The batter, which packs a to-die-for brown sugar taste, the salt which helps to deliver the richness of the dark chocolate, and the vanilla extract. These, without a doubt are a crowd pleaser. 

My sister, best friend and his partner drove up this past weekend to visit my cousin and his beautiful wife in Red Hook, NY, which is just outside of Rhinebeck. We had the most amazing time, visiting local restaurants, antique shops, jewelry stores and even did a bit of wine tasting. We then ordered some dinner, piled onto their huge, comfortable sectional, watched some TV and devoured most of the tray of these outstanding things. Jaws dropped, "oh my gods" were heard and all in all, my little modern family discovered why these cookies are worth pulling out the mixer for. 

A recommendation? Dunk these in some vanilla almond milk. Your life will change.

Salted Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Yields 15-20 Cookies

• 2 Dark Chocolate Bars (I recommend Lindt's 70% Cacao)
• 1 Cup Brown Sugar
• 1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
• 2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
• 3/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
• 1/2 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
• 1 Egg
• 1 Egg Yolk
• 3/4 Cup Unsalted Butter (Melted)
• 1 Tablespoon Pure Vanilla Extract
• Sea Salt/Fleur De Sel (For Sprinkling)

1. Preheat your oven to 350º F. Using your electric mixer, beat together your melted butter and sugars. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla extract and mix until combined.
2. Whisk together your flour, baking soda and salt and gradually add it to the mixture, scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl if necessary.
3. Roughly chop the dark chocolate bars, leaving the sizes of the pieces inconsistent. I love that while chopping, larger pieces will break from the bar. That's perfectly okay. Once coarsely chopped, fold the chocolate into the batter using a spatula or wooden spoon.
4. Scoop out 2 Tablespoon sized cookies onto your baking sheet, which should either be non-stick or lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the cookies with a PINCH of sea salt or fleur de sel. Bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow 5-8 minutes for cooling. If you're like me, you like your cookies warm. Be careful! The chocolate can be hot. And remember, save some for your guests. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Navigating through...

Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and indifference toward the wicked.
- Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjal

Perhaps my lack of inspiration to write was due to the feeling of overwhelming challenge. The lessons learned during my last journey with Royal certainly assisted in placing things into perspective for me. You can never be too careful with your heart and, to fully trust is to love unconditionally. The invaluable relationships that I formed, both professionally and personally, took me on a wild ride. Though many of these cast members became like a small family to me, it was within times of challenge that I saw myself rise to the occasion and take the reigns of my life a bit. Relying upon my integrity not only as a performer but a leader, I surprised myself and, moving forward, I have no doubts that I will know how to respond when things don't exactly go as planned.

I'm so unbelievably grateful to this blog space. I set this up a year ago as an outlet and, since then, it's become so much more to me. This is not only a place where I share my opinions, my love for food, photographs and recipes that have made numerous friends smile from ear to ear, but it's where I can recognize challenges within myself through my words and work on these challenges; allowing a certain growth to take place. Working with Matt Giordano on my yoga practice and obtaining whatever wisdom I can soak up from our conversations, I feel as though whatever path I'm on seems to be housing positivity and light. Though I may not have any recipes to share at the moment, I plan on cooking a small feast for my new family when I return to Hollywood, FL for my next little experience on the Navigator of the Seas. Some of those faces will be familiar and comforting and others will be new, offering something exciting to my journey. Either way, a rewarding experience is all that I will hope for.