Macarons from Ladurée

With a crumpled map in hand, five lovely ladies and I found ourselves walking the streets of Paris. We filled our bellies at a café by the Eiffel Tower and made out to find French macarons. Although we never technically got lost, we did work up a sweat marching up and down the streets- as it was quite sunny that day. Help came in the form of a shirtless Abercrombie & Fitch model who spoke perfect English and sent us down the strip to Ladurée.

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The exterior of the building was enchanting. A creamy brick exterior accented with mint green and gold looked like something right out of a fairy tale. And it was hard to miss because so many people were bee-lining to this eloquent place.

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The shop windows were full of color and charm. Rainbow towers of macarons and fancy packages added cheer to the big glass windows. Candies and cookies and all kinds of magical things were to be had!

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This interior was nothing shy of enchanting. I couldn’t take too many pictures because it was packed with people in line. But just imagine decorative French paintings and pastel wallpapers. From wall to ceiling- light colors laced with gold accents pampered your senses. And then the sweets and treats were art pieces themselves!

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Our journey was a success. I scrambled out of there with my first 6 French macarons. Left to right: coffee, chocolate, Marie Antoinette Tea, salted caramel, pistachio, vanilla.

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When we made it back to our hotel, I opened the little window by my cot and ate four of them. The warm breeze and sunshine in the quiet of the day was perfect atmosphere for macaron munching. All of them were soft and flavorful but my favorite was the coffee. 🙂 I ate the last two after dinner. Unfortunately they wouldn’t have survived beyond a day or I would have taken tons home.

TRAVEL ON.
COLLEEN

Leige Waffle & Chocolate Crème Brûlée at Samantha’s Taproom

A few months ago, some friends and I went to Samantha’s Taproom & Wood Grill for lunch. While the food was nothing exemplary, our waiter did talk us into trying their Leige Waffle. I’m not usually one to order desserts after lunch, but we decided splitting it three ways would be okay.

What was presented to us was a fluffy, hot vanilla caramelized waffle topped with banana slices and ice cream. Sounds pretty typical, right?

Ah, but this was something exceptional. The few bites I had were savored. The coolness of the iced cream contrasting the sugary glaze and soft waffle in just a way that left us wanting more. Not too decadent. Not too sweet. A splendid balance.

Fast forward a few months. I find myself back there ordering it again. Even with a stomach full of dinner, the memories are too golden to resist. We order one and it is delicious.

In addition, we tried the chocolate crème brûlée. And it was pretty fine itself. Actually, it was delicious- and much larger than I thought it would be. It was warm, creamy, smooth, and full of sweetness.

So I think Samantha’s has their desserts down. I can vouch for that. Don’t believe me? Go try some for yourself! 🙂

EAT ON.
COLLEEN

Chicken Tetrazzini & Toasted Ravioli at Bruno’s Little Italy

Tucked away on Main Street is a little piece of Italy that’s always been on the back-burner of my foodie heart. I’ve walked by the little gray awnings, wondering- how authentic is the food? What kind of customers do they attract? Is it formal? Would my parents like the atmosphere?

Having hit up a lot of modern restaurants with friends over the past two years, Bruno’s hasn’t exactly been at the front of my mind. Our city’s food industry has been blossoming like crazy so I’ve been distracted by all the excitement. But the time finally came to give this little gem a try. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: Bruno’s Little Italy.

The Dean Martin lyrics fit the mood just right. It was an evening in Roma– right in our Little Rock. We arrived early because they don’t take reservations. (Not that a Tuesday evening was much to worry about anyway). But I’m always hungry after work, so I was ready for some pasta by the time Renée met up with me. A birthday celebration with my foodie friend calls for some fantastic eats- so one can be a little hesitant when trying a new place for a special celebration. But we took the risk and decided on Bruno’s Little Italy– a restaurant neither of us had yet tried.

On special nights, we eat appetizers. In addition to the delicious bread, Renée wanted to order some toasted ravioli. This was my first time to try toasted ravioli so I don’t have any experiences to compare. It was pretty good though! I find it fascinating to see what different cultures do with basic ingredients. Pasta with a crunch? Okay! It was filled with ricotta and came with a side of meat sauce for dipping.

I went in craving spaghetti, but also wanted a taste of another sauce. After some debate, I decide on the Chicken Tetrazzini- a blend of pulled chicken and mushrooms in a cream sauce with oregano. This came with a side of spaghetti with meat sauce. And guys, it was delicious! I know I say that a lot- but this was amazing. It’s one of those sauces that screams for bread to be dipped in it- almost like a thick soup.

The juicy marinara meat sauce on the spaghetti served as a great contrast and palette cleanser. The spaghetti was soft and slipped right around the fork and into my mouth. It’s always a good thing when your noodles aren’t sticking together. 😉

I’m a mushroom fan so I may be a little partial to this dish. The balance of flavor between the fresh herbs and chicken collaborated perfectly with the creamy sauce. The chicken itself was cooked just enough- and the mushrooms weren’t slimy or stiff. I was impressed by the flavors in both sauces. I could detect different fresh ingredients. In general, I’m not a big meat sauce fan, but I couldn’t say no to that spaghetti!

SYNOPSIS:

The atmosphere of the restaurant is quiet- but not to the extent of white tablecloths and dim lighting. It can be an excellent date night choice, but is also a good place for a small group of friends or family members. The wait staff was wonderful. They are so nice and were constantly filling up our glasses and asking if we wanted more bread. In addition to our main waitress, we had two or three other people waiting on us and seeing if we needed anything. When it came time for to-go boxes, our waitress packaged that up for us.

The food is a little pricey. This is definitely a special occasion place for my wallet. But sometimes you have to treat yourself to a good time and authentic food. I really enjoyed my selection, the location, and the people. I was certainly stuffed when we left- and happy to have lunch packed up for another day. I’ll be back one day, Bruno’s!

EAT ON.
COLLEEN

Pork Dumplings at Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co.

Cloud coverage in July is something I love. Another thing I love? Dumplings! So a combination of these + fabulous company made for a splendid lunch outing. With her days in Arkansas numbered, Lilly is hitting up as many food places as possible before moving. We met Mary at Three Fold Noodles and Dumpling Co. to do some reminiscing and chow down on some good eats.

As you walk in, follow the signs to the back. Yeah, it’s a little misleading that you go to the back of the joint to order, but that makes for nice window seating. I guess we can make the sacrifice. I like the simple menu. Basically you can get noodles, dumplings, or steamed buns- and you choose the meat and spice level of your dish.

The decor is metal and modern with white subway tiles and a warm touch of wood. I liked the sunflowers on the tables- a hint of summer color. The restaurant has an open floor plan feel with tastefully placed walls that allow for some privacy. I absolutely love the exposed brick, guys. I’m a sucker for that kind of contrast element.

I came in knowing I wanted dumplings. This was my second time eating here and I hadn’t tried them yet and people have totally been raving about how good they are allover social media. When it comes to dumplings, pork is my general go-to. And being the somewhere-in-the-middle kind of person I am, I chose medium spicy sauce. No extremes but nothing bland, thanks!

Chopsticks in hand (and a fork just in case), I carried my tray of ice water and dumplings over to the trendy table Lilly picked out by the window. She had apparently ordered the same thing. Mary soon joined us with a steamed bun and carrot slaw.

I was in love at first bite. Soy sauce soaked the base of the bowl, with spicy sauce on top of the dumplings. They were hot (temperature-wise) and perfectly plump. I found myself cutting them in half because 1. those little guys are heavy and packed with meat 2. I am not a chopstick expert and my wrists are too weak for heavy things. They were slipping all over! I did refer to my fork for cutting purposes.

SYNOPSIS:

The atmosphere was cool and clean and the dumplings were ready to grab when you walk up to the counter. At first, we weren’t sure if there’d be enough food to fill our tummies- but there was more than enough. I was stuffed! The flavor of the dumplings wasn’t overpowering and the spicy sauce gave it that kick it needed. The soy sauce wasn’t overly salty and only added to the pork flavor.

Aesthetically, as you can see, the colors are quite pleasing to the eye. The food likes showing itself off and is just begging to be chowed down on. We noticed that Three Fold really does the lunch business. We got there around 11:30 and made great timing with getting our food and having time to chat. In just half an hour they had a pretty decent line of people. The location being downtown near a bunch of offices definitely works to their advantage. People were grabbing to-go orders and sipping bubble tea all over the place! It seems like they know what they’re doing. Keep it up, Little Rock!

DINE ON.
COLLEEN

Slow-Cooker Chicken Tacos

It was July 1st (Canada Day) 2015. The sun was was working overtime and I was thankful for air conditioning. As Wednesday became evening, the excitement of a 3-day weekend was on our minds. So it only made sense to have a dinner and movie night to kick things off. And what’s more American and Canadian than a spin off of Mexican food that you can can throw in a slow-cooker for the day?

After shuffling through a few recipes I found a chicken taco winner! As usual, my version is slightly different. But you can check out the original recipe here.

Ingredients:
2 pounds of bone-in & skinned chicken breasts or thighs
1 roughly chopped onion
2 packages of taco seasoning (I used 1 regular flavor and 1 spicy).
1 to 2 teaspoons of chili powder (I used 2).
1 can of diced tomatoes (14.5oz)
1 can of water* (I used the aluminum tomato can).
1 package of small flour tortillas (I prefer little flour ones to corn).

Topping & side ideas:
black beans
cheddar cheese
cheese dip
guacamole
hot sauce
lettuce
rice
salsa
sour cream
tomatoes

Really difficult instructions:
Place chicken (mine was still frozen) in a large 5 or 6-quart slow cooker. Top with the onion, taco seasoning, chile powder, and canned tomatoes (un-drained).

*I added a can or so of water because I had to leave the slow cooker going longer than the 4-6 hours and didn’t want the chicken to burn out. Original instructions say to leave it going 3-4 hours on HIGH or 4-6 hours on LOW. I left mine 10 hours on LOW. So if you plan on following the original, extra liquid isn’t needed. I just took precaution.

After your hours of slow cooking have passed, shred the chicken with two forks. It’ll fall right off the bones. Pile some on a tortilla, jazz it up with some toppings, and enjoy! Add more chile powder or some hot sauce if your taco needs a kick.

Serves: 12

These were a pretty good hit with the ladies and myself. On weeknights, easy recipes are the best for tired an hungry bellies. I hit mine up with some rice, black beans, lettuce, cheese, and hot sauce. I threw some of the cooked onions and tomatoes on as well. The chicken was the furthest you can get from dry and soaked in just enough seasoning. If I can make them on a day where I don’t have to be out of the house for 10 hours, I’ll try the recipe without the water and see how much more flavor it gets.

COOK ON.
COLLEEN

Biscuits & Gravy with Iced Coffee at Mugs Café

We parked off Main Street a little after 8 in the morning. The cloud coverage kept the sun at bay and it was a pleasant walk from the car up the Argenta strip. My initial reaction walking into Mugs Café was that the interior was deeper than I perceived. I guess you can only see things at face value until you investigate. There’s something to keep in mind when you’re deciding what to display in the front window of your coffee shop.

Renée and I stepped into the modern café and over to the counter. I was thankful for the line because it takes me awhile to make decisions- especially when food is involved. I chose the biscuits and gravy and an iced coffee. After hearing great things about their coffee, I couldn’t leave without tasting some. And with it being June in Arkansas, cold was the way to go.

We gave the counter lady our names, grabbed our mason jars of deep brown, and made our way over to the sugar and cream. The inside tables were filled up by that time so we shuffled around and eventually decided to check out front. There was a little round table for two right by the window and the weather was just perfect enough for coffee-sipping and girl talk.

When our meals were ready, I brought them to the table, snapped some shots, and dove right in. The biscuit was warm and flaky with just enough balance of buttery goodness and fluffy bread. It wasn’t dry or clumpy- which is excellent in my book. It fell apart in just the right way- without crumbling to pieces and turning to mush. The sausage was seasoned and cooked properly. The eggs were light and soft. They didn’t run or crunch. Nothing was over or under-cooked.

The gravy wasn’t super thick and was seasoned just right to complement the sausage and scrambled eggs. The hot food went well with the coffee I sweetened with sugar water. And green onions? A perfect little speck of flavor and color to tie this together. Although I can’t fully speak for Renée, she had the breakfast burrito and approved of its goodness and is a big fan of the iced coffee herself.

As we stuffed our tummies and caught up on each other’s lives, more and more people entered the café. It was really nice to see the community out on a Saturday morning. Bikers and families and single people all gathered for good food and coffee. Some trailed over to the produce market a few blocks away. It was just a lovely little experience. And those wicker chairs were pretty comfortable- even as our stomachs expanded with good things.

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SYNOPSIS:

The iced coffee was great. The flavor definitely stood out and it wasn’t watered down at all. I’m officially a fan of the Kyoto drip. It really went well with the hot gravy and biscuits. The biscuits, like I said, were excellent. They didn’t crumble and they weren’t too thick or hard to delve in to. The eggs were fluffy and the gravy wasn’t overpowering or drowning any of the other foods. The sausage was cooked to my liking and would have been a little salty on its own- but with the gravy and eggs, it was just enough pop of flavor. It all left my tummy satisfied. And it didn’t lump.

The design of Mugs is contemporary and modern. It has a clean feel to it with dark wooden tables and accents of metal. The interior is white and has dark furniture. There are some couches in the back near a little stage. I liked the little tables out front that we sat at. It really gave it a café vibe. See, guys? Arkansas can be cute and trendy.

EAT ON!
COLLEEN

White Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies with Himalayan Pink Salt

One of the things I put on my Christmas list this past year was Himalayan Pink Salt. I had first experienced it the previous March at a St. Patrick’s Day pot luck at work. One of my co-workers put together a potato bar and that was one of the toppings he brought. I thought it was the coolest thing.

Fast-forward to March 2015.

I had recently taken an interest in the food blog HONESTLY YUM and was flipping through their recipes. With the urge to bake, I perused the cookies and found one for salted white chocolate chip cookies. Being the improv artist I am, I figured, hey! Why not use my snazzy pink salt and try this recipe? So I did. Now here we are.

I tweaked the HONESTLY YUM recipe a little bit. My cookies came out crumbly- almost like a HobNob biscuit. They were sweet and almost like sugary sand with a salty surprise and a dash of color.

Here’s my version.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups of wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
3/4 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of softened butter (4 tablespoons of the cup, melted)
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 cup of rolled oats
1 cup of white chocolate chips
Himalayan Pink Salt
vegetable oil (I had some on hand to help moisten the dough). 

Do this:
Preheat your oven to 375°

Sift: flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. (Add those bran flakes that get caught in the sieve).

Cream butter (softened and melted) and sugars and oil with a mixer. Then add egg and vanilla and mix well. Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet and mix until it’s all blended nicely. Mix in the oats and chocolate chips

(This is where I had to add some vegetable oil to moisten my dough).

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and use a spoon to evenly place cookies. Sprinkle on your salt. (The original recipe calls for sea salt. I use chunks of Himalayan).

Bake around 12 minutes or until edges are gold brown.

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I’ll give them a nickname of sandcastle cookies because they remind me of salty beach air and fragile sandcastles. Dad described these as “an adult cookie.” Foodie friends said something about combining that sweetness with the salt made them fabulous. Personally, I had some issues with the crumbling dough and keeping the cookies together pre-baking. Maybe it was because I substituted with coconut and vegetable oil. But people would have never known the mess I made- because they still tasted great. If I made them again, I’d crush the Himalayan salt up a bit. The chunks were a little too much salt per bite. But overall, they were a hit and this recipe makes a lot!

BAKE ON.
COLLEEN