Girl Scout Cookies and Wine Pairing — It Tastes as Great as it Sounds

There are not many things in this world better than wine or Girl Scout cookies. Unless you combine the two. That is just what the fine folks at City Winery decided to do.

Bless them.

The winery hosted an event pairing 4 of their wines with classic Girl Scout cookies. Our pairings for the evening were:

Samoas & 2015 Heinz Eifel Riesling, Mosel

Savannah Smiles & 2015 “615” Sauvignon Blanc, California

Tagalongs & 2014 Centennial Chardonnay, Sonoma

Thin Mints & 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

The wines were selected well. The sweetness of the Samoas paired nicely with the Riesling. The smooth peanut butter in the Tagalongs paired nicely with the Chardonnay. However, my favorite was the Savannah Smiles with the Sauvignon Blanc. The tartness and grapefruit of the Sauvignon Blanc went wonderfully with the crisp lemony cookie. Yum!

The most surprising pairing was the Thin Mints and Cabernet Sauvignon. I am usually not a fan of red wine, it is just too bitter for me. In fact, the only time I’ve really liked a glass of red wine was after a session of flavor tripping. However, I absolutely loved the Cabernet Sauvignon with the minty cookie. It was a brilliant combo.

I have been off sugar and sweets for the last 3 months, so a night of eating cookies was a shock to my system. Sugar overload. I am just hoping that this is not the beginning of a very bad, yet delicious, habit.

So, if you want to delight your tastebuds, lose the milk and grab your favorite bottle for a fun girls night or date night. Or, hell, there is no shame in drinking and eating cookies alone. You do you.

If you want some additional options for your own Girl Scout cookie & wine pairings, several sites have their own suggestions, including Thrillist, Vivino, and Gizmodo. And if you want me to tag a long (see what I did there), I will not turn down the invitation.

Making Tiramisu

This week I attempted to make another dish that looks more complicated than it is (see pies 1 and 2). Tiramisu seems deliciously complicated, but it is really made with 6 simple ingredients: mascarpone, eggs, sugar, coffee/espresso, cocoa powder, and lady fingers. (Some recipes also call for rum or marsala, but skipped it this time.)

Tiramisu Ingredients

Tiramisu, which means “pick me up,” was supposedly invented in Italy in 1969. If you haven’t had it, well, then you just haven’t been living. It is a scrumptious creamy dessert, and one of my favorites.

Tiramisu Egg Yolks

This recipe contains a lot of room temperature raw eggs. This, of course, did not stop me from licking my fingers throughout the process. We’ll just call it quality control. First, I mixed 6 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar. This took several minutes to get it thick enough. A consistent complaint I saw while searching for a recipie was that the custard came out too runny. Apparently, the eggs are the culprit. Once it seemed thick enough I added in the mascarpone (basically an Italian cream cheese).

Tiramisu Egg Whites

Some recipes skip egg whites. However, this helps give the custard its thickness. The recipe said to beat 4 egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, glossy peaks formed. I had never beaten eggs for a dessert before so I was surprised just how fluffy they got. This took a while to accomplish. Although my recipe didn’t explain this, the egg whites should be at room temperature and the sugar should be added in gradually. I probably should have beaten them longer, but I was concerned about over-beating them and having to start over.

Lady Fingers

Once the eggs, mascarpone, and sugar were combined, it was time to prepare the pastry portion of the dessert. The recipe called for 36-48 lady fingers, but it took 60 for me to do two full layers in my dish.

Tiramisu Lady Fingers

The lady fingers (make sure you get the hard rather than spongy ones) are dipped (very quickly) in coffee or espresso, just long enough to cover them. If you let them soak they will get too soggy.

Tiramisu Lady Finger Layer

Then it was just a matter of building the layers. Two of the coffee-soaked lady fingers and two of the custard.

Tiramisu Layers

I’m really glad I got an extra box of the lady fingers “just in case,” though I was hoping to have extras to snack on. No such luck.

Tiramisu Finished

Finally, it was time to put tiramisu in the refrigerator for 8 hours and try to pretend it wasn’t there.

Tiramisu Unsweatned Chocolate

When it was ready, I added a healthy layer of unsweetened chocolate to  finish it off. I may have gotten a little overzealous with it, but you can’t blame a girl, can you? While I definitely do not have a career ahead of me as a dessert photographer, it was rich, creamy, and delightful.

Homemade Tiramisu

If you want to try this at home, you can find the recipe I used here.

Baking a Pumpkin Pie from Scratch

This week’s New Thing is actually an old New Thing that I didn’t have an opportunity to post about before. However, given that we are well into autumn, and Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I thought now would be a good time to share it.

Pumpkin pie is my favorite holiday treat. I can’t get enough of it. (Though oddly enough, I may be the only girl who does not go crazy over all things pumpkin spice.) I casually mentioned to my friend Lilas (who joined me for my juice cleanse a few months ago) that I was curious about how hard it was to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. Lilas, who seems to know all there is to know about everything, responded that it was not hard at all and she had a recipe I could use.

Pumpkin Pie Ingredients

It turns out, other than a pumpkin and condensed milk, I had most of the ingredients in my pantry. The recipe called for sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla extract, some salt, eggs, evaporated milk, and of course one pie pumpkin (which, it turns out, you can find in most groceries this time of year).

Pumpkin Carving

Cutting open the pumpkin was not easy. It took quite a bit of sawing and hacking before I was able to split it open. I was convinced I was going to lose a thumb in the process. In fact, I managed to nick my finger. Don’t try this at home, kids. You should use a serrated knife rather than a smooth knife because, ironically, a smooth knife might slip and cut you.

Inside Pumpkin

After a fair bit of work I was finally able to split the pumpkin open. I used an ice cream scoop to remove the seeds to get it ready for steaming. Unfortunately, I forgot to save the seeds, which is a pity because they are delicious when roasted.

Steam Pumpkin

Once the pumpkin was sliced and cleaned, it was time to soften it up. You can do this in the oven, on the stove, or in the microwave. We chose the microwave because it was the fastest method. Even with the quick option, it took 15-30 minutes for it to fully soften.

Pumpkin Pie Crust Ingredients

While the microwave was doing its magic, we started on the pie crusts. You can’t make a homemade pie using store-bought crust.

Making Pumpkin Pie Crust

Instead of making the crust completely from scratch, we cheated a bit and used gingerbread cookies. (This also made for a yummy mid-baking snack.) We threw a box of the cookies in the food processor and crushed them until all that was left was crumbs. This took longer than expected, apparently food processors are not made to crumble cookies.

Gingerbread Crust

All it took was cookie crumbs, a lot of butter, and some eggs.  We formed our crusts and put them in the freezer to harden and help prevent them from burning while baking.

Cooked Pumpkin

Finally, the pumpkin was softened and we were able to scoop the cooked pumpkin from the skin. Lilas said that the pumpkin skin was tasty, so I decided to give it a try. She was right, it was delicious. The great things about making pumpkin pie is that the entire pumpkin is scrumptious.

Pumpkin Puree

We threw the cooked pumpkin into the food processor and pureed it until it was nice and smooth. This is what is affectionately known as “pumpkin glop.”

Pumpkin Pie Filling

We combined the pumpkin glop with the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, vanilla, eggs, and evaporated milk. I expected it to be a thick consistency, since it had to harden up to be a pie, but it was practically liquid. This concerned me, but Lilas said it was normal.

Pumpkin Pies

That one small pumpkin was enough to make 3 pies! I was shocked!

Pumpkin Pies in Oven

The pies took about an hour to bake and made the house smell like heaven. They probably would have cooked faster but I kept obsessively checking on them. The entire process took a while and, like the last time I baked a pie, they had to cool before we could enjoy them.

Homemade Pumpkin Pie

The pies turned out even better than I expected. They tasted absolutely perfect! And the great thing about having 3 pies means you can give them away to friends.

In conclusion, if you want a delicious homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving but you don’t want to risk slicing off your own digits, just send an invite my way.

Eating at a Restaurant Alone

Normally when I do something outside of my comfort zone on this blog it involves jumping out of a plane, walking on fire, or plunging into an ice-cold lake. While this week’s post seems mundane by comparison, it actually made me really uncomfortable to think about it. When I saw an article asking “Are You Ashamed to Eat Out Alone?” I decided it was time to mark this one off of the list.

Yes, I’ve grabbed a quick bite here and there by myself before. I have a favorite lunch spot back home that I sneak off to each time I visit and I’ve spent hundreds (probably thousands) of hours studying alone at coffee shops. But I have never gone to a nice restaurant and enjoyed an entire meal alone.

I set up a few ground rules:

  1. I could not go to a bar, but it was ok to sit at a bar.
  2. No technology. I had to keep my phone in my bag (though taking a photo or two was ok).
  3. I had to go to a nice local restaurant.
  4. I had to order, at the very least, a cocktail I’ve never tired, an entrée, and either an appetizer or a dessert.
  5. I could bring one piece of reading material.

Picking a restaurant was not an easy task. There are new amazing restaurants popping up in Nashville every day. The choices were limitless, but I wanted to find just the right spot. Perhaps I was over thinking it, but since the only thing I was there to enjoy was the atmosphere and food, I had to make sure both were just right. I tried to find a place I hadn’t been to, but nothing was really striking my fancy for this particular experience. I perused lists of the best restaurants in Nashville and City House seemed to pop up every single time. I’d been there before so I knew it had excellent food, a great drink selection, and I could sit at the bar and watch what was going on in the kitchen. It was perfect.

I had to work late, so I got to the restaurant after 9. I asked for a seat at the end of the bar. I settled in and ordered a drink called the Bandit, which was made of Averna, grapefruit juice, Ginger Ale, and a lime. It hit the spot.

Margherita

I ordered a margarita pizza. Usually you can order it with an egg on top, but they were out that night. Heart break! If you have not had an egg on a pizza before then you are not living life to its fullest. I had the perfect seat; I could watch the guys spin the dough and then cook the pizza right in front of me in a beautiful wood-fire oven.

Pizza Oven

To keep me company I brought a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book I have not read since middle school. Perhaps it is appropriate that the epigraph states, “Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.” I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure. In fact, other than in-flight magazines, I don’t think I’ve read for fun in over a year. I forgot how nice it is.

Kitchen view

For dessert I had the Honey Vanilla Panna Cotta which had fresh peaches, preserves, prosecco jelly, zabaglione, and buttermilk cornmeal cookies. This was my first time trying panna cotta. It was basically a sweet creamy gelatin dessert with some white wine jelly and fresh peaches. The peaches were sweet and fragrant; they were all I could smell while I was eating the dessert. It was absolute heaven.

Panna Cotta

I really liked eating by myself. I was nice to have some alone time at the end of the day. I particularly liked that being alone meant I got to move at my own pace. If I wanted to read for a few minutes while I contemplated having a 4th slice of pizza I could (and did). Usually I am so busy talking at dinner that I forget to eat and then have to devour the food so I don’t make people wait. This time I could eat as much as I wanted at the pace I wanted, and I enjoyed the dining experience a lot more. I even finished my entire dessert (but I did take home the last 2 slices of pizza).

Feuerzangenbowle & The Chocolate Factory

Touring a Chocolate Factory
For week 19 of my 52-week project, Leigh and I went on a tour of a chocolate factory. We visited Schakolad, a chocolate shop that makes its own sweets fresh on the premises. The tour included a brief lesson on the history of chocolate, lots of sampling, and making our own goodies.

First, we made “chocolate business cards.” This is one of the owners making his, which looked a lot better than mine. I think I spent more time eating the white chocolate out of the tube than actually writing my name.

Chocolate Businesscard
Next, we learned how to make chocolate lollypops. We made them by scooping chocolate out of the vat and filling smiley face molds and adding sticks. The molds sat on a box that vibrated to shake out any bubbles in the chocolate.

Making Chocolate Lollypops

We then moved on to dipping strawberries. It was pretty simple to do, just dip the berries in the swirling vat of chocolate and spin the berry until it was completely coated.

Dipping Stawberries

Finally, we made dark chocolate covered marshmallows. These were my favorite. So delicious. We made them by dipping our fingers in chocolate, picking up a marshmallow, covering it in chocolate, and and setting it out to harden.

Dipping Marshmellows
I wish I had pictures of the final product of everything. But, to be honest with you, the treats didn’t last very long after I got them home. I have a bit of a sweet tooth.

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

I used my newly acquired skills later in the week to dip strawberries for Leigh’s going away party. They weren’t as pretty as the ones at Schakolad, but they were mighty tasty.

Feuerzangenbowle
As I mentioned above, I attended Leigh’s going away party this week. She is moving back to Germany so this will be the last time we will have an adventure together for a while. However, I am sure we still have many adventures to come. For her party she decided to prepare Feuerzangenbowle, a German fire drink traditionally served at Christmas and New Years. Feuerzangenbowle is made with mulled wine, fruit, cinnamon, cloves, rum, and a sugarloaf.

First, you add lots of red wine. Leigh said it’s best just to go with cheap wine, so you don’t waste the good stuff. Please note that the wine has no specific variety and is simply classified as “red.”

Franzia Chillable Red
After dumping 5 liters of Franzia into the pot, Leigh added oranges, lemons, and cinnamon, and let it simmer on the stove for a few hours. It smelled amazing, exactly what you would expect Christmas to smell like.

Feuerzangenbowle on Stove
Finally, it was time for the show! A cone-shaped sugarloaf is placed in a tray above the wine. The sugar is then set on fire, either by soaking it in rum and then lighting it, or by lighting the rum and slowly spooning it onto the sugar until it is completely melted. According to the instructions, you need to use 54% percent alcohol in order for it to burn properly. Leigh said she once used Bacardi 151 and that the resulting flame was terrifying.

This is Leigh’s uncle Dave and me spooning rum over the sugar.

Feuerzangenbowle Pouring

A few times the flames got pretty high and engulfed my hand or caught the spoon on fire. No injuries though!

Feuerzangenbowle Fire
I don’t remember what was happening here, but I think Leigh and I were excited to be done and that nobody caught on fire.

Feuerzangenbowle Celebration
The Feuerzangenbowle was hot, delicious, and tasted a bit like cider. It was the perfect drink to warm us up as we sat around the fire telling stories and singing Rocky Top.

Thank you to Amy Williams for letting me use her Feuerzangen-photos. Check out her Freewill Photography Facebook page!

Constitutional Law: The Music Video
Apropos of nothing, here is a video of Leigh and her uncle Dave singing about Constitutional Law. I’m going to miss her.


Candle Making & Snow Cream

Due to a lovely January snow storm I got to try two new things this week. One planned (making candles) and one unplanned (making snow cream). I’ll still do a new thing for all 52 weeks, I just consider the snow cream a delicious bonus.

Candle Making

This weekend I went to a 3-hour candle making workshop. I know that doesn’t sound very thrilling, but it’s too cold for outdoor fun. I promise more exciting things are coming. The workshop was held at Marble Springs Farmstead, the home of John Sevier. I am not from Tennessee so I don’t know much about its history. From what I’ve learned about our first governor, he was actually born in Virginia (my home state), he is buried at the courthouse next to where I work (it is a bit weird that I didn’t know that), and he almost got into a duel with Andrew Jackson (which doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do because Andrew Jackson was a crazy person). Moving on.

The workshop took place in the property’s 18th century style tavern and focused on the lighting techniques of the period.

Tavern

Of course, 200+ years ago there was no central heating or electricity so it was like hanging out in an icebox for 3 hours. There was a fire, but it was still colder inside than it was outside (around 30 degrees when we got there). I really can’t imagine what it was like to live back then. They experienced a mini ice age in the 1770s, so I’d imagine it was especially cold on the frontier.

WaxMelting

The fire wasn’t just to keep us warm, it was used to melt the wax for the candles.

DemonstrationWe used beeswax, which was popular during that period and you can get it today at your local crafts store. It smelled a bit like honey before it melted, but in candleform it smells a bit like a crayon. I can’t really explain that. You start the process by cutting your wick and dipping it into the hot wax. Actually, that’s the entire process. Dip. Let cool. Dip. Let cool. Dip. Let cool. And so on and so forth. Eventually, you have a candle.

CourtingCandle

The workshop was a lot of fun and very informative. It definitely appealed to my inner nerd. For example, we learned about ‘courting candles.’  Courting candles were used as a timer for how long a suitor could spend with a young lady. (It was at this time the gentleman giving the workshop pointed out that I would be considered a spinster because I was over 18 and unmarried. Thanks dude.) The father could adjust the candle’s height based on how much he liked the suitor.

I hoped to take a tour of the grounds while I was there, but after a week of rain and melting snow it was a little too muddy. Marble Springs has tons of other educational activities like soap making and stargazing so I am sure I will be back there soon. But maybe I’ll wait until it is a bit warmer.

CandleDipping

Special thanks to my friend Erin for coming and hanging out with me in the cold and helping with pictures.

Snow Cream

It snowed this week in Knoxville!  The first real snow of the season. We got about 3-4 inches which essentially shut down the city. But, I got a day and a half off from work so I am not complaining. Here is the view of the garden from my bedroom window:

Snow

I’d never heard of snow cream before I moved to Tennessee. In fact, I don’t think I’d heard of it before I moved to Knoxville. Instead, we always made snow cones when I was a kid. It’s the same concept, just with Kool-Aid and without the cream.

SnowCream

After lounging and enjoying my snow day at home, I finally made it outside to collect some snow. It has been a while since we had any sort of substantial snowfall (anything more than flurries here is considered substantial), so it was nice to hear the ice crunching beneath my boots again. The recipe is really easy, just milk or cream, sugar, vanilla, and snow. Essentially, what I made two weeks ago to go with the pie, but colder.

Pro tip: If you stop to take a bunch of photos of your creation it will start to melt before you can eat it.

The snow cream was pretty tasty and a fun winter treat. I see why everyone likes it so much. I will note that if you freeze it to eat later and then try to scoop it out of the bowl, there is a good chance the rock solid block of snow cream will end up on the floor. Or, it could just be that I am uniquely talented.

Baking a Pie from Scratch

Cooking stresses me out, especially if I am cooking for other people. I think this is because I am a perfectionist and have absolutely no idea how to do anything in the kitchen. Needing something to be perfect and having no idea how to do it are a dangerous combination. At least for me. Because of this, I have included quite a few cooking items on my 52 Things list (for example, I want to prepare a dish from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child). To kick things off I decided to bake a pie from scratch. When I told my friend Tina about my plan her immediate response was “this sounds like it’s going to be an episode of I Love Lucy.” She obviously knows me well.

I chose Three-Berry Pie with Vanilla Cream. I wanted something that I could build from the bottom up. Something that was not going to be easy. Something that would take patience. I definitely picked the right recipe.

The recipe had three main parts. The pie filling, the pastry dough, and the vanilla cream.

I started with the pastry dough because it required an hour of chilling before I could use it. The ingredients were pretty simple, just flour, butter, vegetable shortening, salt, and ice water. I should note that before now I had no idea what vegetable shortening was. I actually had to google in while in the grocery store just to find it on the shelf. Now I wish I didn’t know; it’s pretty gross. Basically one solid blob of fat.

The dough was, by far, the most complicated part. I should have been tipped off by this when the recipe called for blending the mixture with my fingertips.

Image

It took some time to get it to the right “coarse meal” consistency. Especially since I didn’t really know what meal was either.

Image

After blending the flour, butter, and shortening for what seemed like an eternity, I was finally able to take the mixture, flatten it out and put it in the refrigerator to chill and harden.

Next came the vanilla cream, which basically tastes like heaven. It’s just heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla all mixed up together. I highly suggest it for a quick, easy, and delicious dessert topping.

IMG_3202

After the dough chilled for an hour it was time to flatten it out to make the pie crust. This is where a rolling pin would have come in handy. Instead, we improvised with two pieces of wax paper and a can of Pam. (Probably the first time I’ve ever used Pam in the kitchen, or anywhere else for that matter). It took both of us about 20 minutes of working the dough and swearing to achieve this:

Pie crust
Finally, came the filling. Berries, berries, and more berries. And lots of sugar. The recipe also called for 2 tablespoons of “quick-cooking tapioca.” I’ve never seen tapioca in pre-pudding form before, but apparently it’s dry and comes in a box. I have no idea why it is in this pie.

If you are going to make this recipe I suggest waiting until berries are in season because they are ridiculously expensive in January. You’ll need 7 cups so picking your own or going to a farmers market would be best.

Pie with berry filling

After 3 hours of beating dough, mixing cream, covering berries in sugar, and licking spoons, the pie was finally ready to go in the oven.

It baked for an hour and came out looking absolutely beautiful. I couldn’t believe that I was actually able to create something that looked like this:

Finished pie

Of course the real test of a job well done is not how the pie looks; it is how the pie tastes. The pie needed 3 hours to set and cool so I had to wait until morning to try it. Waiting was torture. The next day I, and my designated guinea pig, were finally able to dig into it. This is where the nerves kicked in. I was really worried that I’d done something wrong, especially to the crust, and that it wasn’t going to taste as good as it looked.

OMG NOM NOM NOM!

After my first bite all of my worries went away. I know it isn’t polite to compliment your own food, but my reaction can best be described as “OMG! NOM NOM NOM!” and roughly looked like this:

Cookie_Monster
It was absolutely delicious! The crust was light, crisp, and flakey. The filling was sweet, yet tangy. And the vanilla cream was the perfect sweet topping.

I’m so glad I decided bake a pie from scratch as my first new thing. It was so rewarding to put the time and energy into something that turned out so well. I will definitely be baking more from now on.

As great as the result was, I think my friend Tina summed up the process best with, “This is why women had to stay home. Because it took all f***ing day to make a pie.”

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