Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." -Ernestine Ulmer

Could I please order a twice baked chocolate croissant, a mixed berry mini tart, salted caramel brownie, mocha fudge petits four, creme brulee, an almond tea cake and a coconut macaroon?

The flavors of the decadent desserts that I sampled on Friday night are far too intricate to even begin to describe. I don't have any words in my extensive and descriptive vocabulary to do this bakery justice. All I can say is this little gem is the best kept secret in Charlotte. A little slice of dessert heaven.

Just experience it for yourself. You won't be disappointed. Go to Amelie's.

Amelie's...A French Bakery
2424 N. Davidson St.
Charlotte, NC 28205

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sometimes I Dream in Italian

It is getting close to the two year anniversary of my departure with my fellow Nidos to the "motherland". I pulled out my pictures and momentos the other night and it brought back a flood of just "feel good" moments and reminded me of 16 days of bliss. Laura just got back from her trip to Italy as well and I cannot help but be reminded of the two weeks in which I lived the Italian lifestyle and took in the sites, sounds, flavors and history of such a magical place. Some may think I am crazy but my 2007 vacation was life changing and I am constantly reminded of how lucky I was to be able to experience it in full.
I like to think that the Italian culture is appreciated in America as it seems that one of my favorite Italian treats has made its way to Charlotte! On Wednesday, my dear friend Crystal and I went to Cafe Mia in Birkdale Village for some after dinner gelato! It reminded me of walking on the old cobblestone streets in Florence wearing completely oversized sunglasses that one can only get away with in Italia, with my gelato in hand. Not only did it taste exquisite but the gelaterie had all of the flavors that we found in Italy! When ordering gelato, it's very common to enjoy two scoops in two different flavors...twice as nice! I chose straciatella which is the equivalent of chocolate chip and my personal favorite, nutella, a chocolate hazelnut concoction! Crystal went for the fruit variety of gelato, also known as "sorbetto" in blackberry pomegranate and kiwi that was absolutely divine! Other flavors on their menu included Tiramisu, Coconut, Butterscotch and Nocciola, which is a rich hazelnut. If I could walk to Cafe Mia from my apartment, I would be in big trouble. And so would my waistline! Thankfully, it's a 35 minute drive up I-77 North...

After our sweet Italian scoops, we made our way downtown for the Juliane Hough (who is as cute as a button!) concert at Whiskey River's 1 year anniversary party. Such a fun little love muffin date!! This was absolutely the highlight of my week!
Now, a little bit of history...

Gelato was founded in Florence, Italy and is made using the same ingredients as ice cream; milk or cream, sugar, flavor and most importantly- air, for that cloud-like, creamy & dreamy texture. Gelato was a daily treat during my trip to Italy and looking back, I wish I would have collected my spoons so that i could have kept a count of how many scoops I ate...then again, maybe not! At times I felt like I was eating my way through Italy but much to my surprise and delight, I actually lost 3 pounds while across the pond.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Cup of Cappucino for Pep in My Step

Why is it that I always feel like after lunch I start to drag? This is the time of the day I should have some pep because my day is finally "well seasoned" but being a young woman in corporate America, I find it's this time of day that I wish I took more advantage of nap taking while a child. And today is Tuesday. There is really nothing that is ever really exceptional about Tuesdays. It might actually be the only day that I don't really associate with anything. Mondays are fresh; like summer strawberries. Wednesday is the middle...kind of like the filling in an oreo cookie, or the ice cream in the middle of the chocolate outside of an ice cream sandwich. Thursdays the week starts winding down and the feelings that come with a Friday is like easting dessert. But Tuesday? It's just there.

I just finished my homemade lunch and in my constant quest to be healthy, I have been pushing tea time back to 1:00pm instead of 3:00pm and topping off my lunches with a big cup of pomegranate green tea and a small piece of dark chocolate- both which contribute to good health and loads of antioxidants. Today, however, I needed an extra boost to get me through the rest of the day. Thankfully, the little cafe downstairs is a nice "go to" place when I don't feel like getting into the Escape to travel to Starbucks or Dilworth Coffee. Even though our building cafe has convenience, the quality of the coffee is not always up to par. I was desperate for something though, so I ventured down and asked for a cappucino in the biggest cup possible- my exact words to the Barista. Did I fail to mention that I drank my coffee this morning in my usual 17 oz. Starbucks Christmas mug from Sophie in addition to my 16 oz. travel mug that I bring to work. Now, adding this new beverage to my daily total, I don't know if I want to know how much caffeine I have consumed today, but what I do know is that this cappucino is quite possibly as close to perfection as a cappucino can get. The foam is just the right consistency and the espresso is not the least bit bitter or watery, but the rich and impeccable flavor that goes down smooth and leaves a coffee addict satisfied.

I feel that it is only appropriate, as I sit in my cube sipping on this, that I turn on my Frank Sinatra Pandora station and listen to him and all of his friends (Michael Buble, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., Nat King Cole, Dean Martin...) sing to me as I get ready to crank through the rest of my workday.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chef Chid to the Rescue!

When does life slow down!? Last week it seems I never stopped moving and this week has not been any different. I have found that after my evening workouts, nothing calms me down more than putting on my apron and creating something delicious to end the day.

As I racked my food loving brain on a rainy Friday last week, I was trying to think of a perfect little meal to cook up to jump start the weekend. I invited Mark over and the only request that he had was that I make anything but pizza! I went through all of my favorite "go- to" dishes but I just wan't feeling the magic. While sitting in my cube, I rolled my chair over to Sara and told her I needed some help thinking of something to create. I must gravitate to fellow food lovers because I have quite an extensive list of friendly chefs that I can consult with when I am in need of some flavorful ideas. As quick as the sprinkle of pixie dust, Sara picked up her phone and called her wonderful fiance John Clifford. He shared an easy salmon recipe that I knew would be something fun and different to try. I love experimenting with salmon because it can take on so many different flavors and you can transform it in countless ways. John's recipe was so easy and had the best flavor. It took all of about 20 minutes and was almost restaurant quality if I do say so myself!

Dijon Roasted Salmon

Salmon fillets (individual portions or one large filet)
Dijon Mustard
Fresh dill
Fresh cracked pepper
1 onion, sliced
Tin foil

Place salmon fillets on pieces of tin foil. Season the salmon with cracked pepper as desired. In John's words, "glob" the mustard on top of the salmon and spread over the entire piece of fish. Arrange sliced onion on top and add one sprig of fresh dill (while cooking in the foil, this adds an extra special flavor element that really makes the dish). Make a pouch with the foil and close tightly. These can be cooked on the grill for 20 minutes but can also be cooked at 350 degrees for 20 minutes in oven. Enjoy the unique aroma as you carefully open up the foil pouch!

I served this delecatble dish with my favorite Ilios inspired Greek salad and farfalle (bowtie) pasta with fresh pesto.

Small side note for all of my fellow health nuts, salmon is not only a "super food", but it does incredible things for your skin. The omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon help to reduce clogged pores and aids in reducing inflammatory agents in the skin that lead to skin damage. Salmon also contains loads of selenium, which is part of a healhy skin diet and can give you an extra special "glow".

Peace & love to Sara & John for sharing their culinary expertise!!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Pinch Hitters and Pops in the Park!

This weekend was nothing short of a fabulous one on the food front. It was so tasty that I am going to have to break it up into a few different posts as to be sure that I am giving each bite equal press time. Sunday is fresh on my mind and all of the elements of the day made me so happy.

Last week, my mom and sister did a tastebud test with the Bailey family at Big View Diner, the newest restaurant in the Ilios Noche family. I listened to them rant and rave about how fantastic it was and not only did my mom proceed to enjoy the diner TWICE last week, but Mark took his mom there and could not stop talking about it either. I feel like the restaurant and its tastiness made its way into several conversations last week and I was so curious to try it for myself! On Sunday, Mark was nice enough to decide that it wasn't fair that everyone else had been lucky enough to try it and I was still left out and my food loving soul was very crushed over what I was missing! We enjoyed a scrumptious lunch and before we sat down, we set the intention of saving room for dessert (always the smartest mindset in my opinion!) Mark ordered an open faced steak sandwich and I opted for a Ruben which was probably the best I have ever had (and according to our waiter, the most popular item on the menu right now). I would also like to note, as I observed the retro ambiance of the restaurant and looked around at the small details, the ice cubes really impressed me as their slightly oversized and chunky cubic shape sat so nicely in the water glasses. It takes these small elements to add to the attitude of an establishment, and I'm all about detail.

While eating our lunch, our conversation turned to my top five favorite desserts and Mark got creative and advised that the dessert in my "top 5" could be up for grabs and substitutions, otherwise known as a Pinch Hitter! I immediately took to this term and am adopting it. Which brings me to the most important line of business when discussing Sunday's lunch- Banana Cream Pie. I personally LOVE banana desserts and could not have been happier with my dessert choice (other items on the menu: bread pudding, cannolis, strawberry shortcake, among other sweet delights...) I am pretty sure that we had the entire thing eaten in less than 5 minutes but believe me, I savored every bite and enjoyed it to every last heavenly crumb. The pastry- like crust was not too sweet and the cream above the well balanced banana pudding filling was like eating a cloud. White chocolate shavings provided a pristine garsish atop the magical slice. Big View's "Soon to be Famous Banana Cream Pie" is now the current Pinch Hitter on Nina's list of top 5 desserts!

As my Sunday continued, I had a lovely girls night planned with Crystal, Kealy and Laura at the Pops in the Park concert hosted by the Charlotte Symphony at South Park. The music theme for the evening had a country flair and I was so excited to hear music from one of my most favorite musicals, Oklahoma! I hope that the people on blankets around us didn't mind our loud voices as we sang along! On our way to the park, we stopped by Dean & Deluca for a quick bite to carry with us! I got my favorite Dean & Deluca house salad (mixed baby greens, roasted red peppers, toasted pine nuts, goat cheese and balsamic vinegarette) and all of us girls enjoyed a summer glass of wine and a small bite of Peruvian and Costa Rican dark chocolate for dessert! Our girls evening was enchanting, to say the least and the symphony provided for a perfect Sunday under the stars. Ciao!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Cousin love

Peace, Love & Good Food is still a baby blog but I am trying to nurture it day by day and my list of followers is slowly growing. On Tuesday, my lovely cousin Meg sent me an email that I just have to share. I know that my readers have been leaving sweet comments on my blog but this was my first real "feedback" that I have gotten and I was so excited to know that I was an inspiration to her palate! I think Meg loves food (and shopping Anthropologie sales!!) as much as I do and we often email back and forth during the week sharing recipes and flavorful finds. Back in January, Meg and Jim cooked us a wonderful Indian feast which I am hoping she will agree to guest blog about soon. (Yes, Meg, I am serious)

My love note from Meg:
I made myself a yummy turkey sandwich for lunch today and the inspiration came from your blog! It was the Dean and Deluca sandwich with a little twist. I added spinach and mixed fig preserve and spicy brown mustard coz I didn’t have apricot mustard.
I am going to try the Greek Country Salad tonight/tomorrow.

Oh and I also made a delicious spinach salad- Spinach with chopped figs, chunks of feta cheese, black grapes and sliced fennel with balsamic…inspiration – Illios Noche!

The truth is it takes time and planning to eat healthy and the last thing I want to do is spend 2 hours in the kitchen for dinner every night. So making quick healthy meals is fantastic. I don’t think believe in complicated methods to bring flavors out.

Lastly, a little loving shoutout to my wonderful cousins!!! (Andi...sorry you were stuck on the mountain when this picture was taken)

Happy Friday! Ciao!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Next Food Network Stars!

My wonderful roommate and I are lucky enough to have the living situation that we do. Our little living space is quite cozy and we have really established a quaint little home. Much to my liking, Ashley and I have the same love for food and appreciate the time and effort that goes into preparing a delightful meal. We might be considered nerdy for being so domestic but I think our peers could really learn a lot from us. Grocery shopping together is twice the fun and very budget friendly. Because we are busy young professionals with fairly active social lives, we aren't able to make something exquisite every night but two to three times a week we put on our aprons and get creative in the kitchen.

Monday night's dinner was what we call a perfectly balanced meal. Tuna medallions were on sale at Harris Teeter and we picked up some fresh brussels sprouts over the weekend as well. (I know, not typical on the favorite vegetables list but we LOVE these little things and found a great recipe that called for roasting the sprouts with garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil) Normally, we marinate our tuna in teryaki sauce or some sort of lemon concoction but I decided it might be nice to try something different. I mixed some low sodium soy sauce and brown sugar and let the medallions sit for 10 minutes before searing them. The sauce created perfect glaze and just the right amount of salty/sweet combination. The brussels sprouts turned out better than we could have ever imagined and we added a side of our favorite Harvest Grains mix from Trader Joe's that includes red quinoa, lentils and israeli cous cous. You can't help but feel so healthy after eating fish and it was the perfect little meal to wind down with on a crazy Monday.
Tuesday did not fail to disappoint as we continued with our seafood theme. Harris Teeter's frozen shrimp is something we always keep in the freezer as it is easy to cook with on the fly and there are so many ways you can fancy up some shrimp! We marinated our shrimp in a caribbean jerk marinade with lemon pepper and roasted them in the oven. This was served over brown basmati rice which we tossed in with some minced green onions and cilantro...served with a wedge of lime on the side for a citrus burst that added a nice freshness to the meal. Once again, a nice balance of flavor and ingredients to make for another healthy meal.

And while Wednesday night's meal was nothing fancy at all, I can say that we enjoyed a glass of wine on a patio in Ballantyne Village after work, and ate chocolate pudding while listening to Mossimo & Jane from http://www.learnitalianpod.com/ give us Italian lessons on my iPod. Molto, molto bene!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pizza...Al Fresco!

Summer is in the air and what is better than grabbing a good friend and dining "al fresco". Otherwise known as eating "out in the fresh air", dining al fresco is something I always look forward to on gorgeous summer nights. There is something about eating outdoors surrounded by a quaint atmosphere with good food and people bustling about. Although I have always loved eating outdoors, I think my affinity for it grew during my trip to Italy two summers ago.

On Saturday night, Ashley and I threw on cute summer sundresses and went to Brixx at Blakeney! The weather was perfect and the pizza was well worth our 45 minute wait just to get a table outside. We were seated on the patio near the live band and all of the families bustling about and little kids dancing to the music. Such a happy sight for the eyes on a Saturday night! We split the Brixx salad which is always one of my favorites. Mixed baby greens, goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and their phenomenal balsamic vinegarette. Feeling like something we had never had before, we ordered the Roasted Chicken Caprese Pizza which was such a treat! Fresh mozzarella, vine ripened tomatoes, basil (the heavenly trio of food/flavor combinations) and large pieces of roasted chicken to top it off. Now normally, I do not always enjoy chicken on my pizza but this was a great twist on a classic caprese pizza and we enjoyed every bite! To top it all off? We decided to be adventurous and try a pomegranate wheat brew from Denver, Colorado which was the perfect beverage for our little date. It was crisp and cold and just the perfect amount of sweetness right before you swallow!

Although I cannot say that Ashley and I ordered a sweet treat from Brixx post-pizza, I can say is that when we got home, the cupcake princess herself had a little test fest in the kitchen and made the most exquisite lemon cupcakes courtesy of Ms. Martha Stewart's recipe file! (to be featured in an upcoming post)
Ciao, ciao!