Santa Hat Brownies Are a Holiday Hit

Four days before Christmas, a friend told me about Santa Hat Brownies and I instantly went on a search for the recipe and directions! The holidays are my favorite time for baking because I have a reason to make ridiculously cute desserts like Santa Hat Brownies and  there are enough people around to eat the stuff I bake. After a quick Google search I came across Erica’s Sweet Tooth. Her blog is totally cute, great for amateur bakers like myself, and she had just posted a recipe and directions for Santa Hat Brownies!

The Santa Hat Brownies were super easy to make and everyone loved them! All you do is bake brownies, top with strawberries, and melt white chocolate to decorate. On Christmas Eve I made the brownies, then on Christmas morning my dad, yes my dad is awesome, helped me get the Santa hats assembled.

Santa Hat Brownies are a huge hit at holiday gatherings and very easy to make.

Santa Hat Brownies
Recipe adapted from Erica’s Sweet Tooth

Ingredients
1 box brownie mix (I used Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie Mix)
24 small strawberries
1 cup white chocolate chips

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease one mini-muffin pan.
Prepare brownie mix according to box’s instructions and fill muffin cavities 3/4 of the way full.
Bake for 25 minutes.
Let brownies cool, then cut into squares.
Place one strawberry upside down onto each brownie.
Melt white chocolate chips in a double boiler and transfer into a piping bag.
Pipe a ring around the base of each strawberry and add a small dot on top. Work quickly, the white chocolate can dry fast and clog up your tip!

Happy Holidays!

Nosh News: The Best of Everything Edition

Anthony Bourdain vs. Paula Deen: Two celebrity chefs enter, one leaves (possibly slathered in butter).

’Tis the season for Top 10 lists. Here’s a rundown of 10 of the most entertaining best-of-the-year roundups I’ve found around the Web, in no particular order:

1. Top 10 Food Trends of 2011 by TIME. A wide-ranging overview of the year’s highs and lows. Thumbs up to #3: The New Vegetarians and #10: Regional Food, thumbs down to #9: Texting at the Table.

2. Top 10 New Foods at the 2011 State Fairs by Endless Simmer. Check out which state nabs the dubious honor of #1 fair-food innovation.

3. Top 10 Food-Related Lawsuits of 2011 by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog. A big thank you to the plaintiff behind lawsuit #3 for ruining late-night Taco Bell runs for the rest of us.

4. Travelers’ Choice 2011 Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in the United States by TripAdvisor. I visited four of the 10 cities on this list in 2011 (and, in previous years, I’ve dined in three more). While #3 Chicago, will always be my favorite place on the planet to eat because it’s my hometown, my introduction this year to the dining scene in #1 New Orleans landed that city high on my own list of the most enticing food destinations.

5. The Best Cocktails of 2011 by Tasting Table. Blame it on Mad Men. In 2011, classic cocktails edged out other alcoholic beverages, prompting home mixologists to begin experimenting with bitters, shakers and garnishes. If you’ve already perfected your take on the French 75, this list offers 10 fresh recipes to test-drive.

6. Top 10 Food-World Spats of 2011 by CHOW. My personal favorite smackdown? Anthony Bourdain, who seems to despise everyone in the culinary world but himself (and his dudebro David Chang, of course), vs. the equally unctuous Paula Deen.

7. Ten Best Vegan Cookbooks of 2011 by VegNews. A great resource for everyone who wants to add more meatless dishes to their cooking and baking repertoires. As a lifelong diner devotee, I need to add a copy of “Vegan Diner: Classic Comfort Food for the Body & Soul” by Portland, Ore., chef Julie Hasson to my cookbook collection.

8. Top 10 Food-Related Apps by the Washington Post. Perfect for foodies who received a shiny new iPad or smartphone for the holidays. I’m eager to explore Chefs Feed, which features prominent chefs’ picks for great dining experiences in a handful of U.S. cities, with more locales to be added in 2012.

9. Top 10 Food Trends for 2012 by Epicurious (via Yahoo! Shine). An intriguing look ahead at the forces that will shape how we eat in 2012. I’ll be watching to see how these trends play out in Tallahassee in the coming year. We’re already got several excellent artisan cheesemakers in the area, and I hear that there’s a new churro purveyor in town, but I have yet to spot fennel pollen on a local menu.

10. Top 10 Simpsons Food Episodes by LA Weekly’s Squid Ink blog. OK, so this list isn’t limited to 2011 episodes, but it’s way too much fun to miss. Whether you’re fantasizing about a colossal donut or a mug filled with Skittlebrau — or perhaps something slightly less Homeric — here’s hoping that 2012 serves up an array of edible delights.

Chili Cook-off Victory is Sweet … and Spicy

On December 3, Ryan (my boyfriend) and I won first place at Andrew and Heather’s 2nd Annual Chili Cook-Off! Our friends Andrew and Heather have a serious chili cook-off every year, so we were prepared to compete. They decked their house out in chili decorations, had t-shirts made and gave out chili-themed prizes. Last year, Ryan and I came in second place, so we felt the pressure, and wanted to beat it! *Side note: Ryan and I are both really competitive.

Our first-place pot of chili.

There were eight different types of chili entered into the contest. Everyone left the kitchen and each pot of chili was given a number. Heather, the host, handed out small cups of every chili and all the guests tasted them, then ranked each chili from 1 to 10 (10 being the best) on their scorecards. After each chili was tasted and ranked, Heather tallied up the rankings. The results are as follows:

3rd place: Chris Lowery

2nd place: Manuel Bermudez, Rachel Henry, and Alberto Bermudez

1st place: Amanda Doumanian and Ryan Reeves

After the contest, everyone enjoyed chili, chili dogs and chili cupcakes. The sweet and spicy chili cupcakes were made by Candace aka Cakes by Candace. This fun night ended with a win and has left us pondering what to do for next year.

Chili cupcakes made by the local baker behind Cakes by Candace.

If you want to learn more about hosting a chili cook-off of your own, email me at tlhbitebybiteAD@gmail.com for more details. If you want to know our chili recipe, too bad — it’s top secret ;)

Nosh News: I Made It Out of Potatoes Edition

Happy Hanukkah!

Time to make the latkes! Hanukkah (otherwise known as my annual excuse to go Pac-man on potato pancakes) begins tonight at sunset. This year, I’m determined to perfect my latke-making technique. In my quest to eat fried potatoes as often as possible during the next eight days, I’m going to give two recipes from Smitten Kitchen a try: Classic Potato Pancakes and a spicy twist on the dish, Indian-Spiced Vegetable Fritters with Curry-Lime Yogurt.

Since I like to live on the culinary edge, I haven’t yet decided exactly what I’ll be making for Christmas dinner. But I know that the menu will, of course, include potatoes. If the Pioneer Woman’s Duchess Potatoes taste half as good as they look, they might just outshine whatever main dish I end up putting on my holiday plate.

Since I’ll be busier than usual in the kitchen, wrestling a towering pile of potatoes into submission, posting on the blog will be light during the next couple of weeks. May you all enjoy a delicious holiday season and a fruitful new year!

Sweet Caroline’s Bakery is So Much More Than Sweet

Sweet Caroline’s Bakery in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Whether you live in Palm Harbor, Fla., or not, you need to go to Sweet Caroline’s!

Sweet Caroline’s does everything from wedding cakes to bread, and it’s all amazing. In October, I traveled down to Palm Harbor for my future sister-in-law’s baby shower. This is the first baby of our family, so both soon-to-be grandmas and I had so much fun planning the shower —which of course included getting a cake!

My Mom knows my desire to shop local, so she did some research and found Sweet Caroline’s. The entire experience from start to finish was great. Not only was the cake delicious and gorgeous, the service was impeccable! Executive Pastry Chef Michael Ostrander worked with my Mom on the design, flavors and fillings. Chef Michael has more than 40 years of professional baking experience, and he truly cares about his customers. Plus he uses all natural ingredients!

On the day of the shower, I couldn’t wait to see this cake. My Mom had really been talking this place up, so I had high expectations. Upon our arrival, the store smelled and looked amazing! Chef Michael personally came out to greet me and took me in the back to show me the cake! It was gorgeous! He cared so much that my mom was pleased with it that he asked me for permission to put gold spray on it. (He wanted to get my permission since my Mom hadn’t requested that). I figured gold makes everything better, so I gave him the okay. This was not your typical baby shower cake —it was a three-layer, chocolate-and-vanilla, raspberry-filled cake, topped with gold spray, and DELICIOUS!!!

The baby shower cake made by Sweet Caroline’s Bakery.

After our amazing experience with the cake, we ordered rolls from Sweet Caroline’s for our Thanksgiving dinner. These rolls were awesome. The first thing my Dad told me to do when I walked into our house in Palm Harbor was to eat a roll. Ha!

Sweat Caroline’s also offers baking classes on Sundays. You can learn how to make everything from bread to pies to cupcakes. For a full class schedule and more information, visit the Sweet Caroline’s Bakery website.

Just the facts
Sweet Caroline’s Bakery
3347 Tampa Rd., Palm Harbor, Fla.
(727) 781-1888

Nosh News: Growth Spurt Edition

Whenever I’m in Athens, Ga., I always fuel up at Jittery Joe’s. Several of the microroaster’s excellent coffee blends are now available at Earth Fare here in Tallahassee.

The Red Hills Small Farm Alliance, which runs the Red Hills Online Farmers Market, just announced its Growing Here Workshop Series. During three sessions, local farmers and other agricultural experts will share their knowledge about growing fruits and vegetables successfully in our local climate. The series kicks off with a workshop about planting dates, site selection and seed varieties, 1 p.m.-5 p.m. January 8 at Turkey Hill Farm. Speakers include Louise Divine of Turkey Hill Farm, Lilly Anderson Messec of Native Nurseries and Katie Harris of Full Earth Farm. The series continues with a workshop on organic pest management on Feb. 12 at Miccosukee Root Cellar and a soil health workshop on March 11 at Full Earth Farm in Quincy. Admission is $15 per workshop or $40 for all three workshops for Red Hills Online Farmers Market members; $30 per workshop or $80 for all three workshops for non-members. (Red Hills Online Farmers Market membership is $10, which is reimbursable for members of the Bread and Roses Food Cooperative). For more information about the Growing Here series and to register online, visit the Red Hills Online Farmers Market website.

Throughout my culinary life, cupcakes have been very good to me, the not-so-skilled baker. Homemade cupcakes work for just about any occasion and nearly everyone greets them with glee, even though they’re much simpler to make than, say, a pie or a torte. I never need an excuse to eat cupcakes, but National Cupcake Day on Thursday, Dec. 15, does present me with an opportunity to celebrate by whipping up a flavor I’ve never baked before: Hummingbird Cupcakes, a Southern classic that intrigues me.

Noted around town: Chipotle is now offering, at long last, brown rice for burritos and bowls; Earth Fare has begun carrying coffee beans from one of my favorite indie caffeine purveyors, Jittery Joe’s in Athens, Ga. I recommend the microroaster’s organic, full-bodied Morning Ride blend.

Best Bites: It’s Almost the Most Wonderful Time of the Year Edition

Khara Plicanic is biking across the country, offering free photography classes at eight cities along the way. Her [UN]tour stops in Tallahassee on Wednesday, Dec. 14. (Photo courtesy of the [UN]tour)

The Havana Holiday Festival & Lawn Mower Parade rolls through downtown Havana on Saturday, Dec. 10. Doesn’t that sound like the most fun ever? In addition to the wacky procession of riding lawn mowers and golf carts transformed into parade floats, visits with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, live music and more family-friendly fun, this annual holiday celebration also offers festivalgoers the opportunity to help out the hungry. Bring a canned good or jar of peanut butter to donate to Community Cares Outreach of Havana, and you’ll receive a holiday ornament to decorate and hang on the town’s Giving Tree. The festival runs from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., with the parade starting at 1 p.m. on Main Street. For more information, visit the Havana Florida Events website.

Would a little chocolate make your holiday shopping more pleasant? How about some Champagne? Ten Thousand Villages will serve up free samples of both at the second annual Champagne & Chocolate Open House, 11 a.m.–4 p.m. at the shop in Market Square, 1415 Timberline Road. Ten Thousand Villages, a nonprofit fair trade organization, carries an array of items created by artisans across the globe, so you can feel great about snapping up some unique gifts while you’re at the shop. For more information, call 906-9010 or visit the Ten Villages Villages Tallahassee website.

Food bloggers live and die by their photos, and I know I’ve still got a lot to learn about taking great shots. That why I’ll be attending the Tallahassee stop of the [UN]tour, set for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 621 Gallery, 621 Industrial Drive in Railroad Square Art Park.  Nebraska photographer Khara Plicanic is traveling across the country by bicycle, with her husband, Emir Plicanic, to share her 10 Tips for Instantly Better Photos, whether you’re shooting a holiday party, an awe-inspiring landscape or your latest culinary creation. Admission to the one-hour class, which is geared to hobbyist photographers of all skill levels, is free. (Khara also will offer a free Wickedly Fast Wedding Workflow class for professional photographers at 4:30 p.m. the same day.) For more information, visit the 621 Gallery website or the [UN]tour website, where you can register online for either class.