Best of 2013: Best New Bar and Restaurant

Our pick for Best New Bar and Restaurant of 2013 is....The Hidden Still, Connecticut's only moonshine bar and creators of our "Best Drink of the Holiday Season" winner. We have written quite a bit about "The Still" as some of us have been calling it, and we don't want to be too redundant, so you can read more about it here in case you missed it.


Best of 2013: Best Local Foodie Event, CT Cheese Festival

The Connecticut Cheese Festival was our pick for Best Local Food Event of 2013Food Republic recently named New Haven native Jason Sobocinski's Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro third in its list of The Ten Best Cheese Shops in America. We were not at all surprised, for we had the fantastic opportunity to spend a few hours with Sobocinski and some of his cheese-loving friends at the Connecticut Cheese Festival this fall, and we can tell you that this man is all about cheese.

The Cheese-Rolling Contest

With its apt motto, "Curd is the word," the three-hour festival proved that Connecticut is becoming a leader in the artisan cheesemaking revolution. Featuring demonstrations, tastings, classes, and pairings (all with cheese experts), local vendors like Mystic Cheese Company and Fairfield Cheese Company, not one but two grilled cheese trucks, and even a cheese-rolling contest, this event was the cheese lover's place to be. It took place on October 13th and coincided with one of the final Coventry Farmers' Markets of the summer season which take place at the Nathan Hale Homestead. Market "Master" Winter Caplanson invited press, including local bloggers (that's us!), to check it out. When we arrived, Sobocinski greeted us and gave us a run-down of the day as we watched market volunteers assemble the Connecticut Cheese Plates which market-goers could pre-order.

CT Cheese Plate

The plate was beautifully composed and included a variety of cow, sheep and goat cheeses from local cheesemakers with a wide range of textures and flavors, along with locally-made accompaniments. We were instructed to taste clockwise, from lightest/youngest cheeses to the oldest/strongest: There was Oak Leaf Dairy Fresh Chevre (goat's milk) with Farm to Hearth Woodfired Oven-Baked Crisp, Mystic Cheese Company Melville (mixed milk) with Winding Drive Citrus Marmalade, Arethusa Camembert (cow's milk) with 18th Century Purity Farm Heirloom Apple, Beaver Brook Farmstead (sheep's milk) with Falls Creek Farm-Made Quince Paste, and Cato Corner Aged Bloomsday (cow's milk) with Stonewall Apiary Raw Honey. It was a delicious walk through the farms of Connecticut on a single plate.

"Poetry, Music and Cheese" with Robert Aguilera

Next we were invited to join in on the unique and inspiring "Poetry, Music and Cheese Class." Robert Aguilera, who met Sobocinski while the two were working at Formaggio Kitchen in Boston, led participants on an artistic journey to experience cheese as a living entity - pairing it not only with wine or beer, but also with music and poetry. To give much of it away would be a shame, because this is the kind of thing that must be experienced in person, but suffice it to say that it both touched us and gave us a whole new outlook on food pairing.

Grilled Cheese from the Caseus Cheese Truck

The class whet our appetites, so we headed to the Caseus Cheese Truck to wait in line and order the special CT Grilled Cheese. So enraptured by the piping hot, melted cheese, and perfectly grilled, crispy bread, we devoured the whole thing before stopping to take a photo (silly us!). Thankfully, we caught Sobocinski as he enjoyed one himself.

Mozzarella-Making Demo

We watched a few minutes of the mozzarella-making demo which showed how to make a pound of fresh mozzarella using New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.'s cheesemaking kit. Yes, we bought one! But no, we didn't get to see the outcome, since our last, and favorite stop was the Cheese and Spirits Pairing Class with none other than Jason Sobocinski, "The Big Cheese," himself.

Cheese and Spirits Pairing with Jason Sobocinski

After starting with "Every cheese has a story," Sobocinski proceeded to walk us through an hour-long tasting of cheeses paired not with wines but with spirits. We knew we were in the right place when we saw the bottle of our favorite Onyx Moonshine at the table. The best thing was that Sobocinski did not suggest to us what we were tasting, but patiently waited while we tasted and pondered and then discussed what flavors came through on our own palates. He was more of a guide than anything else, and we learned a lot. Amy's favorite pairing was the Bees' Knees - Onyx, local honey and lemon juice - paired with Mystic Cheese's buttery Melville, while Chris loved the Manhattan - Johnny Drum Special Reserve Bourbon, Carpano Antica Vermouth and Luxardo cherries - paired with Arethusa's grassy, nutty Europa. Even without the perfect pairings, those are our favorite new cheeses. We plan to visit his new venture, Ordinary in New Haven, very soon for more. 

Jason Sobocinski, cheese enthusiast

All in all we had a great day. We met many new friends, enjoyed plenty of Connecticut-grown products, discovered some now-favorites, and learned a heck of a lot about cheese. We can't wait for next year's Connecticut Cheese Festival, and we highly recommend you meet us there! 

All the cheese experts at the CT Cheese Festival


Best of 2013: Best Drink of the Holiday Season

As we head into 2014, we wanted to take some time to reminisce about some of the best foodie discoveries and experiences of the past year.  And Amy, for one, would like to start with the Best Drink of the Holiday Season. That winning drink is the "Holiday Upside Down Cake," and it's made with an in-house made Onyx Moonshine Holiday Spice Infusion shaken with pineapple juice and a drop of cherry juice. Think pineapple upside-down cake in a chilled martini glass. It. Is. Dangerously. Delicious. And it was created at the Best New Bar of 2013...The Hidden Still


Christmas Eve is Here, and We Can't Wait for Crabbies

The countdown is over. We made and delivered our foodie gift packages and we are just about prepared for our annual Christmas Eve with Amy's family. There are 17 of us total, including neighbors D and J and their two kids, who are pretty much family to us. Our usual thing is to serve a variety of appetizers and then do one "main" event dish. We like to do something different each year, but certain things are just tradition. And you can't mess with tradition, especially on Christmas! So we spend our efforts on the main dish and also make those certain appetizers everyone loves and waits all year for. 

One of those traditional apps is "Crabbies." Crabbies have been a part of Christmas Eve for as long as Amy can remember, back to when the whole family came to Amy's parents house for the celebration, even her uncle's parents, Anita and Tito, who have since passed. They were the ones who made the crabbies, and we now make them in their honor. And as much as we've been tempted to change an ingredient or "upgrade" them in some way, we wouldn't dare. One bite brings back so many childhood memories that it simply wouldn't be Christmas Eve without them, just the way they've always been. 

(makes 12)


1 package (6) Thomas's English muffins, split in half
1 6-ounce can fancy lump crabmeat
1 5-ounce jar Old English cheesespread
1 stick margarine, softened
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Lay out English muffins on a cookie sheet. Fold together remaining ingredients until well combined. Spread cheesy crab mixture evenly onto English muffins. Broil until bubbly and golden brown. 

Note: To make ahead, do not broil but lay cheese-covered English muffins between layers of wax paper in a zip bag and freeze. When ready to serve, broil from frozen. 



Christmas Countdown: Golden Syrup Pecan Bites and One Baking Fail

When Amy lived in New Orleans, her then-boyfriend's family had a pecan tree in the backyard. The nuts would drop around Thanksgiving, and they had a special tool for picking them off the ground. It was a favorite after-turkey-dinner activity, and since then, pecans just seem to say "holidays." We already made some lovely Pecan Sea-Salt Drops, but we had pecans left over from that experiment, so we decided to make some pecan bites. 

You've noticed us using corn syrup in some of our candy recipes, and frankly, we don't have an issue with that. But Whole Foods carries Lyle's Golden Syrup, a iconic product from the UK that we've heard of but never tried. When we tasted it, we thought of pancakes, waffles and pecan pie. And that's where our pecan bites came from. With a crumbly crust and golden, nutty top, these are sure to please. 

Golden Syrup Pecan Bites


Cooking spray
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter
5 large eggs
1 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 9x11 baking pan with cooking spray. Combine flour and brown sugar. Add butter, a tablespoon at a time, into the flour/brown sugar mixture and crumble with your hands until it looks crumbly. Press into prepared baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Combine eggs, syrup, salt and vanilla and mix well. Fold in pecans. Pour mixture over crust. Reduce oven to 275 and bake for 50 minutes, until set and golden brown. Cut into large bars or bite-sized squares.

And of course, we did have one baking fail this Christmas. We attempted to make Bon Appetit's Bourbon Sea-Salt Caramels. We are pretty confident we followed the directions but they just did not set up. The most disappointing thing is that we sprinkled ours with a beautiful espresso sea salt our neighbors D and J gave us, so it was a real waste of both time and good ingredients. Here's what a part of it ended up looking like after we tried to cut it into pieces. Yikes!

Christmas Countdown: Salemme Pepper-Infused Onyx Moonshine Balls

We are somewhat famous for our rum balls. People request that we bring them to parties every year, and this year we even had someone admit they had been dreaming about them. So of course, yes, we made them again this year - here's the recipe, and here's a photo.

But in the interest of changing things up a bit, we thought we might used a different liquor to make a second batch. At first we considered Grand Marnier, since orange and chocolate go well together. Then Amy thought she might try Creme Violette, but decided it could be too flowery for some. Bourbon? Boring. Then Chris had it! Why not try our own Salemme Pepper-Infused Onyx Moonshine

Onyx makes a "111" version that is higher proof than their regular product, and is perfect for infusing. We infused it with Salemme Pepper, a special dried red pepper that is Connecticut-grown and cultivated. Basically, we added a tablespoon of the pepper flakes into the bottle of moonshine and let it infuse for the past few months. Then we used our infusion to make chocolate balls that have all the kick of a spiced hot chocolate, with a little booze in there as a bonus. Made in CT with CT products, these Christmas balls are a uniquely local experience!

Salemme Pepper-Infused Onyx Moonshine Balls

Makes about 70


1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
3/4 cup hot pepper-infused Onyx moonshine
2 1/2 cup vanilla wafer crumbs
cinnamon for dusting (optional)

In a heavy saucepan, melt chocolate chips over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar and corn syrup. Stir in moonshine, then add vanilla wafer crumbs and mix well. Cover and cool in refrigerator until mixture is hard enough to roll into balls. Line a baking sheet with wax paper, and using your hands, roll into 1/2-inch balls and place onto wax paper. Store in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Dust with cinnamon when serving. 


Christmas Countdown Wordless Version: Buckeyes

Christmas Countdown: Pecan Sea-Salt Drops

We are heading to New Orleans for a few days after Christmas and while we're there, we always pick up some freshly made pralines from Southern Candymakers in the French Quarter. But we wanted a praline-style candy to include in our gift packages this year, and settled on another Martha Stewart recipe, Pecan Sea-Salt Drops. 

A praline without the cream and butter, these drops consist of chopped pecans in a crunchy caramel sprinkled with sea salt. Martha suggests using a mini-muffin tin, and we tried them first in one, but then we tried a regular sized muffin tin and liked the look much better. What's great about these candy drops is not only the salty sweetness but also the pretty elegance.  

Pecan Sea-Salt Drops
(from MarthaStewart.com, makes 12-16 candies)


cooking spray
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans
flake sea salt

Coat the cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray. Bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cook, swirling occasionally, until mixture becomes golden around the edges. Stir in pecans and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is pale and amber-colored, about 8 minutes. Spoon mixture into muffin cups, about 1 tablespoon each, and immediately sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool completely, then remove from tins. Store in an airtight container.


Christmas Countdown: Honeycomb Brittle

It's the weekend before the big holiday, and A Couple in the Kitchen has been busy making sweets and treats for sharing with friends, neighbors and loved ones. We're still quite busy with school and life and all that, like everyone, so we started with something very easy - a candy recipe from the queen of all things homemade, Martha Stewart - Honeycomb Brittle. Making candy seems scary to some, but we find it much easier than baking. And less time-consuming! We used orange blossom honey to get a hint of orange essence in each crispy, crunchy, airy bite. And that great honeycomb-like texture comes from whisking in some baking soda at the very end.

Honeycomb Brittle
(from MarthaStewart.com, makes 1 sheet, about 9"x11")


cooking spray
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon baking soda

Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and set aside. Bring sugar, honey and water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium-high. Cook without stirring until mixture reaches 300 degrees on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and whisk in baking soda until combined and bubbly. Gently pour onto prepared baking sheet, tilting to spread, and allow to cool. When cool, break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.


The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap Recipe Roundup

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013

Getting ready for Christmas? Need some tried-and-true cookie recipe ideas? Look no further, for where else can you find 555 cookie recipes, including photos, than The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap Recipe Roundup?

Let the drooling begin!


Toasted Sesame Crisps for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

How is it December 11th? We're not sure how, exactly, but we are most definitely behind in getting everything ready for the holidays - grading papers, cleaning/decorating the house, cooking, and, of course, shopping. Still, we did manage to get our Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap cookies out in time, and right now, that seems like an accomplishment. 

About the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap: This is our second year participating in the Swap. Each participant (all food bloggers), signs up by giving a nominal fee that goes directly toward Cookies for Kids' Cancer. Then each participant receives the addresses of three other food bloggers, makes and sends each of them a dozen cookies, and receives three dozen in return. We all post our recipes on the same day (that would be today), and salivate as we browse through them all! We even received a couple of shiny new spatulas from OXO as part of the deal. Very special thanks to Love & Olive Oil and The Little Kitchen for all their hard work in organizing this great event for a worthy cause. In fact, over $13,000 was raised between bloggers and sponsoring partners! 

We tried a new recipe from Stacy Adimando's fantastic book, The Cookiepedia, which had been sent to us to preview by the publisher, Quirk Books (we actually did a review of it in September of 2011). It really is a great resource for all things cookie. We've had a lot of luck with a few of her recipes, but part of the Swap is to try something new, so we did. 

We took Adimando's recipe for "Sesame Crisps with Toasted Seeds," added a couple of quirks (no pun intended) of our own, and were really very pleased with the result - a cookie that didn't see-saw into either the too-sweet or the too-savory, and went nicely with both coffee and tea. They had a wonderfully crisp texture and a nutty-caramel flavor. Oh, and they only take about 15 minutes to make, including baking time! We sure hope our sendees, Beth of Beth's Blue Plate Special, Veronica of My Catholic Kitchen, and Micky from What Micky Eats, loved them as much as we did. We will definitely be making them again.

We received some really fabulous cookies as well, as you can see below. Thank you so much to Melanie of Aesthetic Eats, Tal of Ba-Li Cravings, and Caroline of Chocolate & Carrots.

Check out our post on last year's Swap here. And for more great holiday (and year-round) cookie ideas, be sure to browse through The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap recipe roundup!

Toasted Sesame Crisps
adapted from The Cookiepedia by Stacy Adimando

Very Important Note: Sesame seeds at our local supermarket were outrageously priced at $86.24 a pound ($5.39 for a 1-ounce spice jar). But Chris, ever the problem-solver, had in mind to stop at the Indian market where he found...drumroll please...a 28-ounce bag for $4.99. Yup. Those numbers are correct.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies

1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375. Toast the sesame seeds in an even layer in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring often for 6-8 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl. Add flour, baking soda and salt and set aside. Melt the butter together with the sesame oil. In a separate bowl, combine the melted butter/sesame mixture, brown sugar, egg and vanilla and stir until fully combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until browned around the edges, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. Let cool on the sheet for two minutes then transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013