Sunday, April 29, 2012

German Chocolate Bars

Creamy coconut, rich caramel and crunchy pecans on top of a fudgy base...yum-o-liciously addictive!

  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 1 package German Chocolate cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup caramel bits
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spritz a 9x13 baking pan with non-stick buttery spray.
  • Beat together melted butter, one egg and cake mix.
  • Press into baking pan.
  • Beat together remaining two eggs, powdered sugar, cream cheese, coconut and caramel bits.
  • Spoon over cake mix layer.
  • Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over the top.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Let cool completely and cut into squares.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Local Flavor, Vegas Edition: Bottles & Burgers

I love Tivoli Village, the European-style development in the Summerlin area of Vegas, and not just because of its charming wrought iron balconies, stone facades, water fountains, and faux boulevards.  In a city that prides itself on vast casino spaces bent on sensory overload, it's almost cozy.  Tivoli Village has a quiet energy that encourages meandering among the shops and sitting on benches sipping a cocktail under trees accented with twinkling lavender-colored lights.  It's also close to home, which doesn't hurt.

All that strolling and shopping requires refueling, and Tivoli Village offers a nice variety of places to nosh. One of them is the gourmet burger joint Bottles & Burgers.  One Friday night after work, my husband and I picked up my brother-in-law and headed to B&B to get our burger on.

Kicking off the weekend, the place was hoppin' ... and filled with beautiful people.  The servers are not only selected for their customer service skills, apparently, because they all looked remarkably buff and attractive.  It wasn't just the waitstaff that was easy on the eyes; a majority of the patrons were good looking as well.  Not sure how well we fit into that mix, but no one made us feel uncomfortable.

Our booth was roomy but located right next to the restroom, a little too close for my taste.  More hustle and bustle than we wanted, but not too bad.

We started with an order of onion rings accompanied by a creamy green salsa.  The onion rings were nicely battered and crisp, and I really enjoyed the salsa.  The creaminess gave it a body that worked well with the rings, which wouldn't have been the case with a typical salsa.  It was nice step up from the standard ketchup and mustard.

I ordered a veggie burger that came with homemade potato chips.  My husband went with a nacho-style burger. My brother-in-law chose the sliders with a side order of fries and a milkshake.  The milkshake came first, along with the onion rings, and we all enjoyed a few slurps of chocolaty goodness.  It was delish!  The fries were another unqualified hit.  With both cheese sauce and gravy, they were yummy.  My bro-in-law wasn't wowed by the sliders but enjoyed them.  The homemade chips were bland enough to let the burger flavors shine... assuming they were there to shine.  My husband wasn't wild about the cheese sauce on his burger - he prefers his fromage shredded - but the tortilla chip strips stayed crunchy, and the burger was well done, just as he requested.  My veggie burger, unfortunately, was a disappointment.  It was mushy and lacked pizazz.  Even with a slice of cheese and sauteed onions and mushrooms on top, it remained blah.  I didn't finish it.

I firmly believe that a meal isn't complete without a bit of sweet, and both my husband and I indulged.  My husband's banana split reached new heights - literally and figuratively - of gourmet-ness, piled with whipped cream and topped with sugar art.  No real difference in taste from the diner version, which my husband appreciated.  He likes his classics to be classic, so he was happy.  I tried the opera cake.  It sure looked lovely with cocoa polka dots, a dainty dollop of whipped cream and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  The taste was just so-so.  I was bummed because I relish my desserts, and I couldn't bring myself to finish it.  Can't win 'em all, I guess.

The verdict on B&B? Fun atmosphere with interesting selections that don't always live up to their billing.  Worth a second visit.

Bottles & Burgers By Double Helix on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 20, 2012

Local Flavor, Lakeland Edition: Black & Brew Coffee House & Bistro

Expos are great but grueling.  So much terrain to cover; so much stuff to look at.  The Sun-n-Fun 2012 Fly-in &  Expo was no exception.  In fact, it was even more intense because I volunteered for the radio station - second year in a row! - doing sponsor promos before I arrived and interviewing exhibitors on site.  In situations like this, coffee is a must.  This year, my husband and private pilot, Mike, and I had the pleasure of trying Flying High Coffee on the grounds (ha! no pun intended!).  The coffee was fantastic, and the fact that they give a portion of their proceeds to aviation programs enriched the experience.

However, I need caffeine before I get to an event, not just during, ideally coupled with a bit of sweet. Hence our trip to Black & Brew Coffee House & Bistro in lovely downtown Lakeland.  What a treat...for all the senses!  The coffee house & bistro is situated on the outskirts of a charming plaza in the center of town.  The plaza is green (at least in early spring) and delightfully accented with park benches and outdoor-themed artwork.  The bright yellow sculpture of a bicycling lady was just one charming example. The coffee house offers a small dining and chatting area en plein air, and the inside features cafe tables that seat two comfortably, four if you don't mind being cozy.

The self-serve counter was staffed by pleasant baristas.  My husband scored a free cup of coffee by checking in on Foursquare.  After his first sip, he proclaimed it "pretty good", which, for him, is high praise. I decided to get my caffeine fix from a bracing cup of Earl Grey, bagged, not leafy.  Between us, we ordered a blueberry scone and a pair of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies.  Yowsa!  The cookies were creamy and flavorful, and I instantly wanted more.  Thankfully, we were already en route to the fly-in by the time I realized this, saving my waistline and my wallet.  The scone was buttery and crumbly with just the right amount of blueberries and a sprinkling of crunchy sugar crystals on the top. 

Our visit to Black & Brew took only a few minutes, and I regretted that. I would have loved to have returned and sampled their lunch options while sitting outside gazing out at the plaza. {Sigh}  Since we go to Sun-n-Fun every year, I will make sure I do just that in 2013.

Local Flavor, Lakeland Edition: Pesos Mexican Restaurant

After a sweaty and strenuous day at the Sun-n-Fun 2012 Fly-in & Expo  in Lakeland, Florida, looking at airplanes and interviewing exhibitors, I was craving something other than "fair" food, and I wanted to go local.  What was close by, open late and acceptable to our large party of 15?  Pesos Mexican Restaurant it was!

When our dozen-plus-three people walked through the doors of the restaurant, the manager looked a bit alarmed.  I quickly learned why: the back room, typically used for larger parties, was already taken, and the rest of the place was pretty full.  A good sign for us but a challenge for them.

Undaunted, the manager helped us pull a couple of tables together at the end of a booth, and in an instant, we had plenty of seating.

Initially, the service was slow; it seemed to take the waitresses a little while to figure out what to do with us.  We were hungry and didn't get the requisite chips until about 15 minutes in, and they didn't bring any salsa for another five minutes.  The chips themselves were bland, nothing to write home about.  However, when the salsa did arrive, it proved that the chips were the perfect backdrop to the cool spiciness of the tomato-based condiment.  Yum!

I kept it simple and ordered shrimp fajitas.  A solid dish that didn't offer any surprises. 

Glancing at the rest of the entrees around the table, it seemed that they were the same as mine: nothing extraordinary but tasty.  The one exception was the "de Todito", ordered by the adventurous Lynda Meeks from Girls with Wings, which included an empanada valluna (corn meat patty), arepa (corn cake), chorizo, papa criolla (yellow baby potatoes), yuca frita (fried casava), and guacamole. To me, it looked like the Mexican version of meat & potatoes, heavier on the potatoes (aka, starch).  Lynda gamely tried it all and prounced it "okay".  I gave both her and the restaurant props for branching out from the standard stuff.

All in all, dining at Pesos Mexican Restaurant was a fun and filling experience.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cheeseburger Wontons

Perfect for parties, and a complete meal.

  • 1 1/2 pounds extra lean ground beef
  • 1 packet hamburger seasoning
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 container Laughing Cow Light Swiss Cheese (8 wedges)
  • 1 container Laughing Cow Light Garlic & Herb Cheese (8 wedges)
  • 1/4 cup reduced sugar ketchup
  • 1/8 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup reduced fact shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • 48 wonton wrappers
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Spritz a muffin pan with non-stick spray.
  • Push one wonton into each muffin cup, pressing down to fit the shape of the cup.
  • Bake for 6 minutes until the tips of each wonton are lightly browned.
  • Repeat until all wontons are baked.
  • While baking the wontons, brown ground beef in large frying pan.
  • Mix in hamburger seasoning.
  • Mix in diced onion, cooking until translucent.
  • In a microwavable bowl, combine the meat/onion mixture with the cheese wedges, ketchup and mustard.
  • Microwave for 4 minutes, and stir until mixture is fully blended.
  • Spoon meat mixture into wonton cups.
  • Sprinkle with diced tomatoes.
  • Sprinkle with shredded cheese.
  • Bake for another 10 minutes until cheese is melted.
Makes 48 wontons.

Recipe adapted from

Monday, April 9, 2012

Whole Wheat Bittersweet Chocolate Monkey Bread

One of my holiday traditions is to sleep in and then make a special breakfast-in-bed for my handsome honeycakes Mike.  This Easter was no exception.  Because I'm currently doing a "30-Day No Refined Sugar Challenge", I wanted to make something that'd be healthy and as low as possible in sugar, while still feeling indulgent and fun.  Monkey Bread fit the bill for indulgence and fun, but it's not generally healthy or sugar-free.  So, I came up with this recipe, keeping it simple and easy by using pre-made wheat pizza dough from Trader Joe's and half a bag of Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips. 

The result was a moist and rich-tasting bread that wasn't overly sweet.  I served it to Mike with organic eggs and peppered turkey bacon.  It was a lovely meal for Easter morning.

  • 4-6 tablespoons of Truvia (a blend of Stevia and Erythritol)
  • 2 tablespoons of cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup of Smart Balance Buttery Spread, melted
  • 2 bags of wheat pizza dough (I bought mine at Trader Joe's.)
  • 1/2 bag bittersweet chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli 60% cacao chips.)
  • Spritz a round baking pan with non-stick buttery or olive oil spray.
  • Combine Truvia and cinnamon in a bowl.
  • Tear roughly 1-inch segments from pizza dough and toss in cinnamon mixture.
  • Arrange dough pieces in pan.
  • Sprinkle with chocolate chips.
  • Pour melted buttery spread over dough.
  • Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 60 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Bake in oven for 30 minutes.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spicy Beef & Bison White Bean Chili

I had some leftover ground beef and bison that I didn't want to have to discard because of spoilage.  So, I decided to use them to make chili.  I didn't have any tomato sauce or paste in the pantry, so I subbed Spicy V8.  The result is a moderate spiciness that builds a little with every bite.


  • 1/2 pound organic ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground bison
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cans white beans, drained
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans Spicy V8 
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • In a large skillet, over medium heat, cook beef, bison, onion and garlic until beef and bison are crumbly with no pink.
  • Drain. (The meat I used was very lean, so I didn't need to drain it.)
  • Spoon beef and bison mixture into a medium-sized slow cooker.
  • Stir in beans and remaining ingredients.
  • Cook on high for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or on low for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
  • To serve, top with cheese and corn chips or sour cream and green onions.  (I used 0% Greek yogurt; it's my favorite healthy substitute for sour cream.)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Super Simple Kale Chips


I've heard quite a bit about how great Kale Chips are as a super healthy replacement for potato chips, popcorn and other crunchy, salty snacks.  I had hesitated before now to make them because, well, I'm lazy.  Lazy when it comes to food prep anyway.  I just didn't want to have to buy big bunches of kale, pull apart the sheaves, tear them into little bits while removing the stems, and then wash and thoroughly dry the pieces... all BEFORE prepping them for the oven.  Seemed like too much trouble.  Part of the attraction of potato chips, etc., is that it's as easy to eat them as opening a bag.

When I stumbled on bags of pre-washed, pre-cut kale at the Walmart Superstore the other night, making this uber-nutritional junk food replacement suddenly became accessible.  With the addition of olive oil spray and some sea salt, I quickly ate half a bag of kale while watching my favorite TV show.  It was surprisingly tasty.  I now plan to keep bags of kale in the fridge so that I can easily whip up this up next time I want to nibble.

  • 1/2 bag of pre-washed, pre-cut kale
  • Olive oil spray, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Lay out kale on baking sheet, sorting through it to remove stems.
  • Spritz with olive oil spray and sprinkle with sea salt.
  • Toss on baking sheet.
  • Spritz and sprinkle again if necessary.
  • Bake for 15-17 minutes and eat immediately.