Monday, April 30, 2012

Recipe: No-Bake Cookie Dough Bites

For the past month or so, Saturdays have been my cooking/baking days.  This used to be something Randall and I would do together, but not with exam season! 

He studies so hard!

With Randall studying himself to death for his law exams for the next two weeks, I decided to surprise him with some treats. Not too long ago, I saw a recipe for no-bake cookie dough bites.  Anytime we make cookies, both of us are constantly sneaking spoon fulls. These ended up being just as addicting as actual cookie dough, without the hazard of eggs.

What You'll Need:
1 cup Salted Butter
1 1/2 cups Light Brown Sugar
2 cups Flour
3/4 cup Mini Chocolate Chips
 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

***For those who only have unsalted butter, that's no problem! You can make salted butter by adding 1/4 tsp. of salt to every 1/2 cup of butter you use in a recipe. Although, I'm not sure this will work as well when baking.***

Step 1
Cream salted butter and brown sugar together in a large bowl.

Step 2
Add flour, vanilla extract, and mini chocolate chips and mix. I read it was best to use your hands, but I don't see why you can't use a large spoon.

At this point, you can eat it right out of the bowl if you like. You'll definitely be tempted to anyways!

Step 3
Roll cookie dough into 1 inch balls and refrigerate for an hour, or until firm.

Final Product
 They may not look like anything special, but these are little balls of deliciousness!  If you like, you can dress them up by drizzling chocolate on top. However, these make disastrous "cookie dough pops." I tried to do a few, and the texture was no where near firm enough to handle being dipped into chocolate. 

This recipe made about two dozen bites, which was too many for either of us to be left alone with. I decided to take some over to my dad before he left to go out of town for the week. He loved them, but begged me to start bringing over healthy desserts. Not gonna happen!

***Be sure to keep refrigerated.***.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

What (And Why) You Should Read After "The Hunger Games"

As someone who loves to read, as well as being a bookseller, I'm all for anything that encourages light, or non readers to pick up a book.  Even if that means it has to be made into a movie first. And lets face it, there's no denying that book adaptations seem to be the current Hollywood trend.

While making books into films has been going on for quite some time, it seems within the past year or so unoriginal screen plays have really taken off. As a small example, 11 of the Academy Award Nominees during this past Oscars were based off of books.  That doesn't even come close to the amount of made-into-movies that weren't nominated. The pattern continues into 2012 with The Hunger Games, The Vow, Great Expectations (Fall 2012), The Lucky One, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 2012), and many, MANY more.

These movies ALWAYS bring in customers looking for the original book, and who can blame them? Have you ever read a book that wasn't better than the movie? Most recently, "The Hunger Games" has exploded since the film was released.  And I've seen so many people on Facebook alone become huge fans of the books. But, I bet most of you didn't realize the first book of the series was published back in 2008.  That means for four years this amazing book has been sitting on the shelves, and you didn't even know! Now think of how many other amazing books might be sitting in a bookstore that you don't know about!

It can be hard to find the right book with hundreds and hundreds of choices around you. Being apart of an amazing bookstore, Booksellers at Laurlewood (previously named Davis Kidd), and having loved reading my entire life, I'd like to offer some expert recommendations for those of you looking for your next "Hunger Games," so you don't have to wait for someone to make a movie in four years or more!

For Those Looking for Similar Action of "The Hunger Games"
"Divergent" by: Veronica Roth
Beatrice Prior lives in a dystopian world in which society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue: Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave), and Erudite (the intelligent). Once a year, all 16 year olds must choose which faction they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the choice falls between staying with her family, or being the person she truly is. Her decision becomes more difficult after discovering shes a rarity that does not fit into just one group, and that the seemingly perfect society around her is not what it seems.

Why You'll Like It:
One of the reasons "The Hunger Games" is so engaging is the kick ass main character, Katniss Everdeen. As you read "Divergent," you'll witness Beatrice Prior evolve from a seemingly shy, frail young girl to a strong, powerful female lead that rivals Katniss herself. This book is also full of action and suspense (and violence) that made "The Hunger Games" impossible to put down.  But unlike the Suzanne Collin's book, "Divergent" also includes many aspects of psychology that makes this book a one of a kind dystopian novel.

What Others Are Saying:
"Compared to other dystopian futuristic books, I liked how society had been rebuilt and how richly imagined it all was. I feel in other books, like "The Hunger Games," the back story was largely ignored until the end, but in "Divergent," the conflict was built in from the start. I also loved the main character.  She was strong and independent but not cold at all."
- Becca (Bookseller at Black Bear Books, YA Guru, AND Reading Fanatic)

For Those Who Liked the Team Peeta/Team Gale Love Triangle
"Matched" by: Ally Condie
For her entire life, 17 year old Cassia has always trusted the Society to make the right choices for her, from the little things like what to eat, to the bigger decisions such as what to believe.  So when her childhood friend, Xander, is chosen for her during the Matching ceremony, she knows he is her ideal mate...until another boy's face, Ky Markham, flashes briefly in the screen. Even though the Society assures her it was a rare glitch and that she should focus on planning her life with Xander, she can't stop thinking about Ky. As their relationship grows, Cassia's faith in the Society begins to waver and she is faced with an impossible choice: Xander or Ky, the life she's known or a path no one has dared to follow.

Why You'll Like It:
While this book isn't action packed, it is complete with a compelling love triangle that made "The Hunger Games" and "Twilight" so popular. (Even though I mentioned Twilight, don't mistake Cassia for being obsessive like Bella!) But this book doesn't just dwell on romance, there is also a large focus on the importance of creative freedom.  While you start to choose between Team Xander or Team Ky, you'll also find yourself asking philosophical questions, making this story much deeper than the likes of "Twilight." And while Cassia may not be shooting off arrows like Katniss, or firing a gun like Beatrice, she still finds herself fighting an internal battle over the standard of perfection that the Society has set for her.

What Others Are Saying:
"Ever since reading 'The Hunger Games,' I am forever searching of a good dystopia read.  From the synopsis, you would think this is just another "girl is torn between two boys love story," but it's so much more! Not to mention, the book is beautifully written, almost lyrical. I enjoyed it so much that read the entire thing within 48 hours!"
- Melissa (Always Lost in a Book)

For Those Looking for a New Katniss Everdeen
"Legend" by: Marie Lu
Set in the future, North America is divided into two states at war, the western Republic and the eastern Colonies. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic's wealthiest districts, 15 year old June has been groomed to become the one the most promising prodigies in the Republic's military. She remains obedient, passionate, and dedicated to her country until she crosses paths with 15 year old Day, a boy who has become one the country's most wanted criminals... and the number one suspect in her brother's murder. But together, they will discover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the extreme length's their country will take to keep its secrets.

Why You'll Like It: 
This book was recently nominated for the Indies Choice Book Award, and its not hard to see why. The nonstop action, constant plot twists, and thrilling romance between two unlikely characters makes it easy to finish this book as soon as you pick it up. Unlike Beatrice in "Divergent," June is already the epitome of a hardcore heroin. She is perfectly matched against her original male nemesis, Day. And as opposed to the"The Hunger Games," this dystopian novel features dual points of view from both characters, which will likely renew the interest of those burnt out by this genre.

What Others Are Saying: 
"This book is powerfully written with its alternating points of views. You just fall in love with the characters so easily. The story had it all from action, to some romance, to suspense that you just want more. I can't wait for more of this series to come out!" 
- Emily (Fellow Book Addict) 

All of these books can be found at my store. And if these titles aren't doing it for you and/or if you're looking for something more complex than a Young Adult novel, come in and talk to one of our booksellers. Some of my coworkers have been working there for 20 years!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Recipe: Ziploc Homemade Ice Cream

This is a simple, easy treat perfect for the summer months ahead. Who doesn't love ice cream?

What you'll need:
2 tbsp. Sugar
1 cup Half & Half (or Heavy Cream)
1/2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 pint Ziploc Bag

1/2 cup Salt
1 gallon Ziploc Bag

***This recipe makes about one serving. If you want to make more, I would suggest you repeat the steps instead of doubling the ingredients.***
Step 1
Mix sugar, cream, and vanilla extract in a bowl.

Step 2
Fill the gallon sized Ziploc bag half way full with ice and add salt. The salt lowers the freezing temperature of the cream mixture, allowing it to freeze at a slower rate. If it were to freeze too fast, the consistency wouldn't make for good ice cream.

Step 3
Pour the cream mixture into the pint size Ziploc bag, and make sure its sealed tightly. Place the bag of cream into the bag of ice and seal completely. Now comes the most difficult part, which isn't saying much. Not only is this extremely easy, its also an arm work out! Shake the bag for 5 to 10 minutes (or until hard) depending on the thickness of the cream you used. The bag will get really cold in your hands, so I recommend holding it between two dish cloths. 

Step 4
After you're done with Step 3, carefully remove the bag of cream and rinse in cold water to remove the salt from the exterior. 

Final Product
And that's that! You can either enjoy it straight from the bag, or scoop it into a dish. I topped mine with a homemade chocolate syrup I had made a few days ago. I'll briefly list the recipe below.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup
 1 1/2 cups Sugar
3/4 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 cup Water
Dash of Salt
 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
In a small sauce pan, whisk sugar, cocoa power, and salt. Add water, and bring mixture to a boil while stirring occasionally. Reduce heat and allow to cook for one minute. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract. Allow time to cool and store in refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Flight Review

This review is coming a little late, having visited the magical place known as Flight in the middle of this past March. But the experience has been in embedded in my taste buds forever! I like to call this visit downtown my personal Food Network experience. I'd like to thank Becca and her wonderful family for inviting me to come along. For a food lover like myself, this was a once in a lifetime meal, and my wallet won't be able to afford this type of gourmet food for some time!

Flight is like no restaurant you have ever been to. Instead of choosing one appetizer, one salad, one entree, and one dessert per person, this lovely restaurant allows you to try three of each! You can either order a regular sized portion of one dish, or (and I would highly recommend) you can enjoy three smaller portions of various dishes. Make sense?

 Boutique Vineyards Flight Trio
We started our meal with a "flight" of wines. I'm not a very big drinker, especially when it comes to wine, but these three little glasses were heavenly. Each wine trio comes with a placement card (you can see this in the picture) that gives the name and description of each drink. Unfortunately, its been almost a month and a half since our visit so I can't recall which wines were included, but I do remember that the one on the left was divine.

Carpaccio Flight Appetizer
Shortly after we got our wine, we each received our very own appetizer.  Becca and I both ordered the Carpaccio trio, and it was one of the most amazing dishes I have ever had in my life. I would rather eat this all day over cheese dip. There I said it! From left to right you can see Beef Tenderloin, Seared Lamb Loin, and Tuna. Each piece is thinly sliced and lightly marinated with various oils and spices to create the most delicate, delicious bite food. In the upper right hand corner you'll see a small seaweed salad. I was hesitant about this one, but let me tell you that if all salads tasted as good as that, our country wouldn't have an obesity problem. In the serving spoon is a blue cheese ice cream. BLUE CHEESE ICE CREAM! Only on the Food Network have I ever even seen anything like that. Obviously, you don't want to stick the entire spoon in your mouth, but spread on the croustinis beneath the seared lamb loin with a little bit of the seaweed salad ontop...nothing short of BRILLIANT.

Baby Iceberg Salad
As I mentioned earlier, instead of ordering a "flight," you are always welcome to order just one dish. That's exactly I did for the salad course. There was no way I could eat three dishes of an appetizer, salad, entree, and a dessert! Instead, I opted for the Baby Iceberg Salad topped with a Maytag Blue Cheese, Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, and Grape Tomatoes. Again, perfection.

Mixed Entree Flight
Once you reach the entree course, you're open to even more choices. As well as being able to choose from one portion to three, you can also mix and match which of the three you'd like to eat. For example, I took one entree from the steak, feathered, and seafood flight to create my own experience. By the time our main dinner was served, I felt like a judge on Iron Chef America. From left to right: Boursin Stuffed Filet, Chicken & Waffles, and Seared Sea Scallop. The filet included Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes and a Red Wine Bordelaise Sauce. It was melt in your mouth good! The Seared Sea Scallop rested on top of Black Bean Ginger Beurre Blanc and Basmati Rice. It was one of the best I've ever had.

My favorite was the Chicken and Waffles, which sounds like a strange dish in such an upscale restaurant. This is not your Ihop's chicken and waffle breakfast! Not even close! The dish was composed of a savory Truffled Potato Waffle beneath a succulent chicken breast topped with Mushroom Cream Sauce and Maple Bacon... Almost everyday since eating here, I have been begging Randall to get me a waffle maker so I can start perfecting a savory waffle.

Dessert Fondue Flight 
When we reached the decision to order a dessert, we were all stuffed. But Becca and I just couldn't resist sharing Flight's fondue. It included Chocolate Dipping Sauce, Sherry-Custard Sauce, and Caramel Dipping sauce to be enjoyed with strawberries, apples, angel food cake, gauffrette, cookies, gingerbread, rice crispy treats, and marshmallows. While it wasn't "dip you skewer into a pot fondue," it was delectable and I'm glad we didn't pass it up...even though I walked away feeling 5 pounds heavier.

I would highly recommend Flight to anyone looking to celebrate a special occasion. The environment is classy and inviting, and the staff is engaging and friendly (not to mention everyone working here looked like they could be a model). However, be prepared to spend some serious cash. While I'm giving it a $$$ for price, you can easily spend $75 a person depending on how much you get!

Thanks again to Becca and her wonderful parents! I still get a foodgasim just thinking about it!

Location: 39 South Main Memphis, TN
Hours:  Lunch: Monday - Friday: 11:00am - 5:00pm;
Dinner: Sunday - Thursday: 5:00pm - 10:00pm, Friday - Saturday: 5:00pm - 10:30pm
Attire: Casual Elegant
Price: $$S (See the left side of my blog for pricing guide)
Alcohol: Yes
Suitable for Kids:No
***While walk ins are accepted, reservations are encouraged to ensure a table***

Las Tortugas Deli Mexicana Review

 Yesterday, I was finally able to visit Las Tortugas in Germantown. This small restaurant is located in a strip mall across from Chik-fil-a, next to the Wolf River. It's easy to over look, but word of their reputation is all over Memphis.

If you're looking for your typical Tex-Mex restaurant, this is not the place for you. You won't find loaded burritos, cheese on you tacos, or the white cheese dip that I've been addictive to my entire life. Uh oh. No cheese dip? I know what those of you who know me are thinking...This is going to be a bad review. The truth is, Las Tortugas was one of the BEST restaurants I have ever been to. Everything is 100% fresh by purchasing everything from their meat to their vegetables the day of from local sources. And it shows! The tortillas, salsas, gaucamole, chips, EVERYTHING is expertly handmade. I believe them when they say, "Fresh is the number one ingredient."

 This is not like Chipotle, or Swankys where you get to pick your own toppings. The place is run by Pepe and his son Jonathan (aka Mr. Tall Dark & Handsome. Seriously. You could see young girls swooning.). Pepe is from New Mexico and his mission is to bring fresh, authentic food to Memphis the way it is presented in Mexico. I've heard that if you ask for substitutions, you be better prepared for a lecture!

Chicharron De Queso (Pepe's Specialty Fried Cheese)
While Las Tortugas may not have my beloved cheese dip, one cheese dish that you can't miss is the Chicharron De Queso. This is basically a fried, hollow cone of delicious cheese and spices. It's made by scattering a blend of  shredded cheese and spices on a grill, and twirling it with a spatula and tongs. This is not something for me to try at home, even though the recipes I've found said it's supposed to be fairly easy. No thank you! I think I'll stick with the experts at Las Tortugas.

Tamales De Pollo O De Puerco (Chicken Tamales)
Now this dish was Bethany's, so I can't attest to its deliciousness. However, I've heard that this one runs out fast! Which brings me to my next point about Las Tortugas: Because their ingredients are purchased the day that they're used, when they're out, they're out! And even though this place seems hidden, it's very popular and gets VERY busy. So get their early and order fast!

Salsa Mexicana & Guacamole Verdadero
Even though you can't get cheese dip (by now you should be starting to see my obsession), you can enjoy homemade salsa and guacamole. I have never been a fan of guacamole. I've always found that it never has had enough flavor for my liking. Now I understand its because I've never had the REAL deal. This dip was nothing short of amazing. It was chunky, spicy, and packed with flavor. The salsa was just as fantastic. It had more of a pico de gallo consistency versus the runny stuff you get at a chain restaurant. And it definitely had an unexpected kick which is essential for good salsa!

Tacos de Carne Asada
When you go into Las Tortugas, you have two choices: order from the menu or order from the daily specials board. I decided to go with the Carne Asada special. Jonathan explained to me that they don't make these tacos with skirt steak like the Tex-Mex version I was accustomed to. Instead they're made from shredded sirloin that is acquired locally for Neola Farms in Tipton County. The tacos are filled with fresh meat, pico de gallo (or maybe the Salsa Mexicana), and slices of avocado. It includes chips, extra salsa, spicy BBQ chili sauce, and my favorite, the Salsa de Aguacate Tayde. It's an avocado based spicy green salsa with the perfect amount of cilantro. (Becca you would hate it! ;) The dish was great without it, but it was phenomenal with it! Also included is a small cucumber and lettuce salad. All together is was simply divine!

Location: 1215 S Germantown Rd, Germantown, TN 38138
Hours:  Mon-Sat 10:30 am - 8 pm
Attire: Casual
Price: $$ (See the left side of my blog for pricing guide)
Alcohol: Yes
Suitable for Kids: Yes

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

First Post = Most Self Centered Post

Here are a few things about me in case you're wondering if this blog's for you.

Name: Macon

Facts About My Name: A good 75% of the people I meet think they're clever enough to say, "Oh, like Macon Bacon." While I'm glad they successfully learned to rhyme in grade school, I'm afraid it doesn't mean they're brilliant. However! If you are able to create a new, creative nickname that I've never heard of, I'll give you $5. The best so far? Macon Babies. Which is completely inaccurate, but is pretty funny none the less.

An even greater 95% mistake my name to be Megan during an introduction. This has happened so many times in my life that if I think I'll never see you again, I'll just go along with it. Recently my name was mistaken for Mason in a reply email. An email! Where my name was clearly spelled M-a-c-o-n.

Occupation: I have a job at an independent bookstore. My official title is Inventory Assistant, but if my title were to accurately reflect my responsibilities I would be called Inventory Assistant/Graphic Designer/Cupcake Maker/ Closing Manager/Someone Who Actually Gets Things Done. Needless to say, I love my job.

School: You know, I was seriously considering omitting this section. When people ask when I'm going to graduate I feel like I'm constantly saying, "next semester." Briefly, I'm about to be a 6th year senior with a major in English and a concentration in Technical Writing. With that being said, don't judge my grammar on this blog. This is for fun, not for homework, or for a work project. Perfection does not exist here.

Relationship (The Mushy Section): I've been in relationship with a wonderful man named Randall for two years this coming July. In about two weeks he will have finished his second year of law school with one more year to go. I could not be more proud of him. Semester after semester he's been finishing towards the top of his class (not an easy feat, especially in law school). As well as being one of the most intelligent people I know, he's also everything that I've been looking for in a man. I can honestly say I've met the person I plan on spending the rest of my life with.

What I'm Currently Passionate About: FOOD. My passion for food is growing each day, and it's both a blessing and curse. I love to eat it, I love to cook it, I love to smell it, I LOVE FOOD. I'm hoping that a big part of my blog will be reviews of local restaurants in town. One of my plans this summer is to avoid all of the mainstream chains and eat local. I'm looking forward to sharing my experiences with anyone who cares to read! Another main portion of my blog will be dedicated to new recipe successes and failures.

That's all for now folks!