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The Allure of the Wine Bar

Paris, 2009. One of my favorite honeymoon pictures from a little cafe across from the Louvre.

My funny valentine knew the way to my heart this year – a wine bar. I love wine bars, but particulary warm, friendly, neighborhood wine bars that know how to make a good cheese platter for under $5.

This Valentine’s Day Eve, my husband surprised me with a visit to a new local wine bar – Jet Wine Bar on South Street in Philadelphia — a little unassuming place with a nice selection of wines from around the world and a quaint menu to boot. The owner, Jill Weber, is an archaeologist and the chef is formerly of Rouge. Makes for a nice combination. 

The place is tiny and the menu is small but that was all right up my alley – little snacks like savory scones, olives and spiced nuts; tarts (ham and leek or a fig and fennel); sandwiches; meat platters; and of course the cheese. We sampled the Provolone Auricchio (on the menu) and a really nice Spanish bleu cheese (off the menu) followed by a Valentine’s dessert – a chocolate tart.

All in all, much smaller than Tria or Vintage, but intimate with a very “local” vibe. I liked that. Plus it gives me hope that more places like this will pop up on that section of South Street.

Check it out.

 

Gimme Some Sugar

 

I’ve mentioned before how much I like Valentine’s Day. I enjoy it about as much as my husband loathes it. Should make for an interesting February 14th. But one thing my husband does love is sugar. As a kid, he is used to climb on top of the kitchen cabinet to dip his fingers into the tang container…just to get a little fix. I’m no stranger to the love of sugar either. I love a good rice pudding, a rustic fruit tart, and pretty much anything with chocolate. Well almost anything… 

 Two years ago, I made a dark chocolate pot de creme for Valentine’s Day that was so bitter and dense we nearly through them out the window (literally). Last year, I improved with a red velvet cake that went over pretty well. The hubby is in charge of Valentine’s Day this year (as promised due to my loyal, albeit unlucky, Steelers support during the Super Bowl). However, when I just told him about this post he made sure to tell me “not to get my hopes up”  for Valentine’s Day. Ah love.

Below are a few options for your valentine. These have not been road tested, but how can you NOT want to try something called a “Thin Mint Fattie.” Sign me up.

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Thin Mint Fatties

  •  1 small container vanilla ice cream
  • Caramel or butterscotch
  • 8 Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies

Lay out the Thin Mints. Put a tbsp of vanilla ice cream on each cookie. Heat up the caramel/butterscotch in the microwave or on the stove, and then drizzle a little on half the cookies. Finally press the cookies together like two lovers. What is next – a Samoa sundae (actually count me in for that one!)?

Chocolate Strawberry Heart-Shaped Ice Cream Sandwiches

Ingredients

  •  2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pints strawberry ice cream, slightly softened

Directions

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, vanilla, and sugar. Add eggs and milk, and mix until combined. Add reserved flour mixture, and mix on low speed until incorporated, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula at least once. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a flat disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface; use an offset spatula to unstick the dough every few turns of the rolling pin. Roll dough to an 1/8-inch thickness. Cut dough using a variety of heart-shaped cookie cutters from 2 1/2 to 3 inches in diameter, making sure there is a top and bottom cookie for each sandwich. Place hearts on a parchment-lined baking sheet; chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Remove from refrigerator; use a fork to prick holes all over the surface of the cookies. Bake until firm, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Using half the cookies, spoon softened strawberry ice cream about 1/2 inch thick on each underside. Place matching cookie on top of ice cream, top-side facing out. Transfer immediately to freezer to harden; repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve directly from the freezer. Sandwiches can be stored in an airtight container in the freezer for 3 to 4 days.

Cheesecake Filled Chocolate Covered Strawberries 

Ingredients

  • 2 pints strawberries
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 tsp Vanilla
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 8 oz whipped cream
  • 8 oz chocolate for dipping strawberries (like Ghirardelli  60% Bars)
  • 2 oz white chocolate

Directions

Wash Strawberries and lay on paper towel to dry. Melt chocolate, and holding the strawberry by the stem dip them in the chocolate and place on a wax paper. Place the chocolate covered strawberries in a cool place or in the fridge or freezer. While they cool, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until smooth, and fold in whipped cream. Next cut off tops of strawberries and cut out a little of the white inside of the strawberries. Then using a pastry bag, pipe the cream cheese mixture into the strawberries. Melt white chocolate, allow to sprinkle on to the strawberries with a fork.

The “Key” to Spring

After the most recent snowstorm, Ryan invited me to one of his favorite bars in the city – Tank Bar. It is one of those great places you go if 1.) you want to escape the world or 2.) you are having an affair and need a discreet place to meet for a drink. So I dragged my cold, whiny self seven blocks in the snow and was glad I did. He greeted me with one of the best bowls of mushroom soup I’ve ever had in my life. The evening was topped off with a slice of key lime pie.

The taste of the lime sent me into a tailspin. I want spring and I want it now.  And before you so anything I know it is not lime season. But I didn’t care. I set off to find some decent limes (which I found) to make a delicious lime tart (which I did not).

What I got was a mess. One of my biggest shortcomings in baking is my carelessness when it comes to precision. That is why I prefer cooking over baking. I never fail to miss something. This experience was no different. I used a little less graham cracker than suggested so my crust was a bit weak. And while I followed the filling directions to the letter, the amount of filling was definitely not enough to fill the tart pan leaving me with a rather unsubstantial tart. The solution to such a problem? A lot of whipped cream. 

And yes, as it goes with all of my baking endeavors, while it might not taste great, we still ate the whole damn thing…

Key Lime Tart (from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

  • 9 to 10 graham crackers (each 2 1/2 by 5 inches)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 4 to 6 limes), or fresh or bottled key-lime juice
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • Pinch salt
  • Slivered lime zest, for garnish (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Process graham crackers and 2 tablespoons sugar in a food processor until fine crumbs form, add butter. Process until combined. Transfer mixture to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pat into bottom and up sides. Place pan on a baking sheet, and bake until crust is fragrant and slightly colored, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, lime juice, egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and salt; whisk until smooth. Pour mixture into crust (warm or cool is fine), leaving 1/8 inch at the top; return to oven. Bake until filling is set around edge but still slightly loose in center, 20 to 25 minutes.

Cool completely at room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours. To store longer, cover and refrigerate, up to 2 days. Serve, garnished with zest, if desired.

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