Classic Tres Leches Cake

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My mom loves my tres leches cake. It’s her all-time favorite. She requests it for birthdays, holidays, general hang-out days, basically any time I can make it. Considering she is the makes of all my favorite dishes, it’s a great pleasure to know one of my own, is her favorite as well. For Mother’s Day, I knew I had to make it and after the hearty beef bourguignon, this light and airy cake was the perfect dessert.

What you’ll need:

1 cup All-purpose Flour

1-1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1/4 teaspoon Salt

5 whole Eggs

1 cup Sugar, Divided

1 teaspoon Vanilla

1/3 cup Milk

1 can Evaporated Milk

1 can Sweetened, Condensed Milk

1/4 cup Heavy Cream

What to do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray your pan liberally until coated. I choose a round pan this time, because I was only making it for 5 of us. But you can choose a larger, square pan if you’re making this for more people.

Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Separate eggs. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar on high speed until yolks are pale yellow.

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Stir in milk and vanilla. Pour egg yolk mixture over the flour mixture and stir very gently until combined.

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Beat egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, pour in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until egg whites are stiff but not dry.

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Fold egg white mixture into the batter very gently until just combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread to even out the surface.

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Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Turn cake out onto a rimmed platter and allow to cool.

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Combine condensed milk, evaporated milk, and heavy cream in a small pitcher. When cake is cool, pierce the surface with a fork several times. Slowly drizzle all the milk mixture and make sure to get the edges of the cake as well. Allow the cake to absorb the milk mixture for 30 minutes.

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Many people ice the cake, but my mom is not a fan of the whipped cream topping so I usually skip it. If you’d like to ice it however, whip 1 pint heavy cream with 3 tablespoons of sugar until thick and spreadable. Spread over the surface of the cake, and then serve yourself a piece…or two. Have you tried tres leches cake?

Beef Bourguignon for Mother’s Day Dinner

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This year for Mother’s Day I decided to cook dinner. I made beef bourguignon, a dish that had been on my “must cook” list for over a year. Having recently purchased the Le Creuset Dutch Oven, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity and the perfect dish, to christen it with. It turned out absolutely perfect, delicious, rich and inviting.

What you’ll need

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces apple wood bacon, diced
2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound carrots, sliced into chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/2 cup Cognac
1 (750 ml.) bottle dry red wine like Pinot Noir
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried
4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 pound frozen whole onions
1 pound fresh mushrooms, thickly sliced

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat until it’s lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.

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Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

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Toss the carrots, and onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper in the fat in the pan and cook until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the Cognac, stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol.

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Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the bottle of wine plus enough beef broth to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and thyme. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and place it in the oven for about 1 1/4 hours or until the meat and vegetables are very tender when pierced with a fork.

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Once you’ve removed from the oven, combine 2 tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork and stir into the stew. Add the frozen onions. Sauté the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of butter for 10 minutes until lightly browned and then add to the stew. Bring the stew to a boil on top of the stove, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Season to taste.

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Serve with toasted country bread or homemade mashed potatoes. This dish can be a little intimidating – or at least it was for me, but if you have the time and patience for it, it can truly be a treat. Even better, my mom really loved it and for once she wasn’t the one cooking for hours and doing the dishes! Hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day as well!

Amazing Face Masks

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During college I worked as a front desk receptionist at one of the best spas in New York City, where I witnessed first hand the lengths that many women go to, to achieve perfect skin. At the time I wasn’t very interested in these treatments, but lately, thanks in part to my mom who is an esthetician, and my new bathroom mirror – which helps me look at every single pore on my face – I’ve become a bit obsessed with them. 

I’ve tried to become more committed to facials and make an effort to go in at least every 6 weeks. I’m a big fan of microdermabrasion – a skin-care technique that uses tiny rough grains to buff away the surface layer of skin. I get a bit claustrophobic with regular facials and don’t like too many creams on my face, so Micro is truly the best solution for me.

I’ve also started using many of the masks my mom has recommended over the years. Exfoliating your skin is very important and should be done at least once a week, but you should also invest in a good hydrating mask, a purifying mask and a regular mask – to help with blackheads and shrink pores. Like with most things, these products can quickly add up and you’ll soon find yourself spending a couple of hundred dollars on them. However, many of the benefits these masks produce can be recreated by simple ingredients often found in your kitchen. Below are three of my favorite DIY masks that are absolutely amazing! 

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Sweet and Soft Yogurt and Honey Mask

4 tbsp plain yogurt ( I use strained Greek yogurt like Fage)

1 tbsp honey

Mix well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Apply generously to your face and let it sit for 10-15 minutes or until it’s dry.

The low down: In my family we often use yogurt when we get sunburns. It helps cool and repair the skin, and diminish the angry red color. Its acidity makes yogurt a good exfoliator, plus the protein, zinc and lactose enzymes found in it, help dissolve dirt and nourish and soften the skin. Honey is a natural antibacterial, which makes it especially helpful with acne and breakouts. It’s also – as you can imagine- very moisturizing.

This “mask” is one of my favorites. Once you wash your face, your skin will feel, look and smell fantastic. Just be careful and don’t lick your face while you have this on, needless to say this is a mask you can actually eat and it tastes really good.

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Get Fresh with a Cucumber Mask

This one is super easy. Simply apply slices of cucumbers all over your face and let it sit for about 10 minutes. Splash your face with water afterwards and follow up with your moisturizer of choice.

The low down: Cucumber has a water concentration that is approximately the same as the skin’s hydration content, which is why this vegetable is especially good to rejuvenate and moisturize the skin, and make it look more supple. Cucumbers also have a high level of vitamin K, which help erase dark circles.

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Extra Tight with the Egg White

2 egg whites

pinch of corn starch

Whisk the egg whites until small peaks are formed. Then add the corn starch gradually. Apply the mask to face. Leave for 20-25 minutes, then rinse with warm water.

The low down: My grandmother used egg whites on her skin weekly when I was growing up. She’s 85 now and still has amazing skin even though she’s never used a face cream in her life. Egg whites are great to tighten the skin, give you a clear and smooth complexion and help minimize pores. Give it a try, this mask won’t cost you more than 50 cents!

I hope you give one of these masks a try and if you do, please let me know if you liked it and noticed a difference!

Dreamy Carrot Cake

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Once I finished my juice cleanse, I had a few bags of carrots left over. Clearly I went overboard at the fruit market but I wasn’t about to let these babies go to waste.

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So I did what anyone coming out of a juice fast would do, I made some carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and some cupcakes, because the only thing better than cake is cake AND cupcakes. 

The recipe below with yield 12 cupcakes and 2 cakes. 

What you’ll need for the cake:

2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 pound carrots, grated

What you’ll need for the frosting: 

3/4 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted

What to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together until light yellow. Add vanilla. I used my very own from here and felt it made the cake taste extra special.  

In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour and add them to your mixture. Tossing them with flour ahead of time will make sure they do not fall to the bottom of your cake but are evenly distributed throughout. Fold in the carrots, add to the batter and mix well.

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Using an ice cream scooper, take one scoop out for each of your cupcakes. Divide the remaining batter equally between the 2 pans.

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Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes and cupcakes to cool completely in the pans.

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While they cool, mix the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until just combined. Add the powdered sugar and mix until smooth. You want to make sure this is thoroughly incorporated, otherwise your frosting won’t taste as good. It takes about 8 minutes. 

Place 1 layer, flat-side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal. With a knife or offset spatula, spread the top with frosting. 

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Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the frosting evenly on the top and sides of the cake.

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Frost your cupcakes as you usually would and then sit down and enjoy a few

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3 Day Juice Cleanse

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I’ve heard a lot about the benefits of juice cleanses and since being healthy is constantly one of my goals ( though I undoubtedly fail a few times a week) I decided to give it a try. You can buy your juices at several places in NYC including Organic Avenue, BluePrint, and Cooler Cleanse but they’ll run you about $100 a day for 6 juices, and if you’re planning on doing a cleanse for a few days you can easily spend up to $500. I think that’s a bit unreasonable for juice, so I decided to do some research and find an at home recipe I could follow.

As always Pinterest proved to be an essential source of information and I was able to find exactly what I needed from What’s Gabby Cooking.  I marched over to BBB and bought a Jack la Lanne’s Juicer, a great and cheaper alternative to Breville. I decided to do the juice fast for 3 days, and included 5 juices a day and about 10 bottles of water a day, because honestly water became ” the treat” during this time. The cleanse consisted of a green juice, red juice and orange juice. Perhaps the best part of this experience was going food shopping for all the fruits and vegetables in preparation for the fast, and being thoroughly embarrassed to purchase 16 bags of carrots. Not a joke!

Green Juice – Ingredients ( Drink 3 times a day) 

3 leaves kale, stem removed, roughly chopped

1 handful spinach leaves, roughly choppe

1 cup chopped romaine lettuce

1 bunch parsley, roughly chopped

1/2 English cucumber

2 sticks celery, roughly chopped

1 apple, halved and seeds removed

1 inch piece fresh ginger

1 lemon, rind removed

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Orange Juice – Ingredients ( Drink 2 times a day) 

9 carrots

1 orange, rind removed

1 apple, quartered

1 slice pineapple, skin removed

1/2 of a lemon

1 inch turmeric root

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Red Jeans – Ingredients ( Drink once a day)

1 apple

2 red beets

3 large carrots

1 orange, rind removed

1 (1-inch) piece of ginger

1 handful spinach

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I did not enjoy the taste of the juices themselves and found it especially difficult to chug the green juice first thing in the morning, but tried to focus on the bigger picture. My main objective was not to lose weight, (though I did lose about 3 lbs which I gained by the following week) so I would not recommend a juice cleanse for that reason. However if you’re looking to give your digestive system a break ( processing all the red meat, cakes and pizza is a lot of work) this is definitely the way to go about it. If you’re thinking about giving it a try, I’d recommend doing it on days when you are off from work or school, because it does mess up your concentration, especially the first day when all you’ll be thinking about is food. By the fourth day, when I was finally done, I did feel refreshed, full of energy and truly felt that my body was healthier.

My favorite part of the cleanse was discovering juicing. Ever since the fast I’ve been juicing many fruits and vegetables that weren’t a big part of my diet before. A few of my favorites are: Oranges for fresh orange juice, loaded with Vitamin C and anti-oxidants.

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Carrots, packed with Vitamin A, more on its benefits here.

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Celery, one of my least favorite vegetables in the whole world but packed with a massive amount of nutrients. It can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and fight cancer; you can read more about it here.

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Though it can be hard to commit to a juice fast, I think having a glass of fresh squeezed juice, whatever it may be, can definitely be beneficial to your health and something you should try to incorporate in your every day life.

Butternut squash soup with sage and pancetta

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It’s been very cold in NYC and flu season is in full swing. In times like these nothing seems to taste more satisfying than a warm bowl of soup. I made a large batch of butternut squash soup flavored with sage and caramelized pancetta. It’s creamy, loaded with flavor and super good for you.

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Recipe from The Italian Dish

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage (about 3 leaves)
  • 2 to 2-1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
  • 1/8 cup sherry
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 ounces pancetta, chopped 
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • salt and pepper

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Instructions

Melt the butter and olive oil. Add the onion and saute until soft. Add garlic and sage and saute one minute.  Add squash cubes and saute 5 minutes. Add the sherry, broth and cayenne pepper.  Cover and simmer on low for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the pancetta in a little skillet until nicely crisped.

Puree soup with a blender. Return to pot and stir in cream.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in bowls with pancetta on top.

You can refrigerate this for a few days (2-3). 

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Homemade Vanilla Extract

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I love to bake and have found vanilla extract to be one of the most useful and important ingredients to include in all my concoctions. Though you can never beat the taste of an actual vanilla bean, a good vanilla extract comes pretty close and will last you a long time. I’ve had my current bottle for close to 10 months, though it’s running out. Since I needed a new bottle I decided to make my own, mainly for fun. As most projects, it evolved to something more and I ultimately decided to make a few bottles as small Christmas gifts for family and friends. The process is quite simple, all you need is vanilla beans and vodka. I ordered Bourbon Vanilla Beans from Beanilla and used Grey Goose Vodka, though you can use any type of vodka you have at hand as long as it is 80 proof/40% alcohol. 

Using a sharp knife, slice your vanilla beans down the center lengthwise. Inside the beans you will notice the vanilla “caviar”. You can scrape some of  the caviar out of your beans and scoop it into the jar you’ll be using to store your extract.

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Next, cut your vanilla beans in half. This will allow you to fully submerge your beans in vodka. When your beans are cut, place them in the bottles you’ve decided to use, pour the vodka over and seal.

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If you’re using a clear glass jar, make sure to keep the vanilla in an area without much sun exposure. I used 4 ounce Boston Round glass bottles from Specialty Bottles and ordered customized labels from My Own Labels which fit perfectly.

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The traditional time-frame to leave your beans soaking is a minimum of 6 weeks before use, but as with wine the longer it ages, the better. While some people remove the beans after the a certain amount of time ( this can be determined by you) and strain the liquid to have smooth vanilla extract, I choose to leave my beans in because as you run out you can add more vodka and replenish your supply. In short, this small bottle of vanilla extract will last you a long time.