Thursday, November 29, 2018

Recipe: Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars

Every good cookie recipe should start with caramels...
...and chocolate chip cookie dough, in my humble opinion.
Well, this one does.

Mr. H and I partnered with Heinen's to bring you a cookie recipe to make for the holidays.

Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie Bars (Time: 45 minutes, Serves 30)

1 cup unsalted softened butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
8 oz. soft caramels (unwrapped)
1 cup crushed pretzels
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" x 13" baking dish with foil and liberally coat with nonstick cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the softened butter with both sugars until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, vanilla, salt, and baking soda. Mix well, then scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Turn the speed to low and add the flour. Beat to combine, then mix in the chocolate chips.

Press half of the cookie dough into the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
Layer the crushed pretzels on top of the cookie dough base.
In a medium sauce pot, add the sweetened condensed milk and unwrapped caramels. Set over medium-low heat and stir until the caramels melt, making a smooth caramel filling.

Pour the filling over the base.
Drop the remaining cookie dough over the caramel filling in small 1" clumps.
Bake the bars for 25-32 minutes (we pulled them out at 28 minutes once the top was a nice golden brown, but the first layer of cookie dough was not entirely cooked through), until the center is just set. I suggest checking them every couple of minutes towards the end.
Sprinkle with sea salt flakes and allow the bars to cool completely. Then lift the bars out of the pan by the edges of the foil and cut (we used a biscuit cutter to make round cookie bars). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, or you can freeze the bars to make them last longer.
This ooey, gooey cookie bar was decadent and totally holiday indulgent-worthy. 

All ingredients were purchased at Heinen's. In early December, Heinen's will be hosting a holiday baking weekend sale on many of these items included, like butter, eggs, Pillsbury flour, Nestle Morsels, and Domino Sugar bag. Give these cookie bars a try then, and be a hit at your next holiday gathering!

I did adjust the recipe above slightly from the one we followed, since our bottom layer of cookie dough was slightly under-cooked and I felt there was too much caramel at the original 10 oz. included.

What's your favorite holiday cookie this time of year?

Disclosure: I was provided with a Heinen's gift card to purchase items used for this recipe in exchange for this post. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Lobster and Pho

Located in the Rockside Corners Shopping Center in Independence, Lobster & Pho is bringing Louisiana-style seafood boils, East Coast lobster rolls, and Vietnamese phở to diners all in one spot. Sounds like a strange combination, right?
Other than the creepy glowing tanks filled with your next meal's live seafood right as you enter, the place actually kind of works. Nothing will blow your mind, but the food coming out looks good, no matter which section of the menu you're focused on.

I split The Beginner ($38) seafood boil, which includes a 1/2 lb shrimp, 1/2 lb clams, 1/2 lb crawfish, half blue crab, 1/2 lb snow crab legs, and 1/2 lb mussels.
We ordered it at a mild spice level and with the Signature Cajun and Garlic Butter Mix for the seasoning. Even at the lowest level of mild, it had plenty of great flavor and a tiny kick of heat. Besides the obvious of being incredibly messy to eat (don't worry--- bibs, gloves, and wipes provided!), it was plenty of food to share for lunch and we both enjoyed the seafood included.

Now, I'll just have to head back to enjoy a bowl of phở this winter, and also try a lobster roll to get a glimmer of our summer trips to Maine.

Plenty of free parking available in the strip mall lot, and this casual restaurant is family-friendly.

Lobster and Pho
6901 Rockside Road
Independence, OH 44131
(216) 525-0028

Monday, November 19, 2018

Der Braumeister 12 Beers of Christmas

Der Braumeister is hosting their annual 12 Beers of Christmas Tapping on Wednesday, November 21st. The night before Thanksgiving is one of the most popular bar nights, and you could spend it sipping on rare and exclusive holiday brews while noshing on traditional German food. I got a sneak peek last week!
 I hadn't been to this charming, old-world restaurant before.
I couldn't decide if this cabinet of nutcrackers was fun or creepy. Maybe both! I loved it.
But we were there for the beers!
Try them all in a flight and be sure to add some German food. Reservations required, and this event will sell out! Reserve your spot by calling 216-671-6220 and receive an early Christmas gift from Der Brau--- a retro beer glass or mug filled with candy for your table. Two seatings are available, 6-7PM and 8-9PM.

Now we also got to sample of their food at the preview tasting. I learned that raw, salted, and buttered radishes served with beer is a German tradition. One that I quickly became addicted to!
We also sampled charcuterie...
...Sauerbraten with burgundy, ginger and juniper marinated Ohio beef in a sweet and sour sauce and served with spätzle and red cabbage...
...Rheinlander Platter with a smoked pork chop, bratwurst, potato croquettes and red cabbage.
We only had small bites of the food, so Mr. H and I decided to stay and order dinner after the event. We started with the German Lox with Nova smoked salmon, pumpernickel bread, euro cream smear, cucumber, lemon and fresh dill. I would have preferred that the bread be toasted, and it needed a little salt and squeeze of the lemon to really pop the flavor, but it was a nice light start to the meal.
Speck Rahmschnitzel with pork pounded thin and dusted in flour and sautéed in a creamy sauce with bacon and onion and served with Cleveland Kraut and mashed potatoes.
The meal left us wanting to come back and try more, so that's always a good sign!

Check out Der Braumeister if you haven't been, and use Wednesday's 12 Beers of Christmas Tapping for an excuse to head there soon.

Der Braumeister
13046 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44111
(216) 671-6220

Disclosure: I was invited to attend a media preview tasting event with a guest in exchange for sharing event information. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hook and Hoof

Hook and Hoof in Downtown Willoughby became our dinner destination when Mr. H and I found ourselves headed out to Willoughby Brewing Co. to finally get my hands on their famous Nut Smasher Imperial Stout (yes, it lived up to the hype). I'm not overly familiar with the area, so I knew that I needed to head to Twitter and ask Jen of Why CLE? for a restaurant recommendation.

She didn't steer me wrong, and we ended up with a reservation at the Chef's Counter, with great views of the action happening in the kitchen!
This "New American" kitchen is also known for their craft cocktails, and they did not disappoint.
A lot of the menu sounded right up our alley, so we had to start with splitting a couple of small plates. Including the Cold Smoked Salmon ($14) with roasted garlic horseradish crema, rye crostini, chow chow and citrus oil. A fancy "bagel and lox" that was light and full of great flavor and textures!
We also shared the Bone Marrow and Arugula Salad ($14) that came out with two huge bones and wonderful grilled bread.
Mr. H went with the Double Bone-in Elk Chop ($32) with rosemary polenta (to die for texture and flavor), cider roasted root vegetables, and chow chow. Because how often do you see elk on a menu?
I ordered the Pan-seared Mahi Mahi ($27) with butternut squash and mushroom risotto and a pomegranate-apple gastrique. Another winner.
Really, this meal was delicious and beautiful from start to finish, and we loved our seats at the Chef's Counter. It's a small place, so I'd suggest making a reservation. We don't find ourselves in Willoughby too often, but this spot will be on our re-visit list!

Hook and Hoof
4125 Erie Street
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 571-5312

Friday, November 9, 2018


Michaelangelo's is an iconic restaurant in Cleveland's Little Italy. It's been touted as one of the best in the area, the chef left to open the popular Luca (2013) and Luca West (2017), and I've always wanted to go. Other than a work dinner with a pre-set menu once, I had never been.

Mr. H and I were looking for a date night spot last week, and I had a craving for pasta. BINGO!

I am absolutely in love with the cozy bar area. I could curl up in one of the huge leather chairs with a glass of wine in front of that fireplace for hours. But, we settled in for our meal in one of the two main dining rooms. It's classic fine dining Italian.

We ordered the Grilled Portabella Mushroom, Herb Polenta and Drunken Goat Cheese Sauce ($12) from the hot appetizers section of the menu. The flavor of the mushroom itself was outstanding, but it was very small and not the focus of the dish as the name implied. The goat cheese sauce was not as flavorful as I would have liked, and the whole dish arrived at barely room temperature. I did let our server know (no apology or even acknowledgement that it wasn't right!). So, overall, we weren't off to a great start.
I was drawn to several of the pasta dishes, but couldn't resist ordering their famous Sacchetti al Tartufo ($17/$28) with a Ricotta and Black Truffle Stuffed Pasta, Tartufata, and Black Truffle Cream Sauce. I've had this dish at Luca several times, and it is always outstanding. This version didn't disappoint.
But, Mr. H ordered the Scalloppine of Veal Tenderloin with Prosciutto, Sage, Sauteed Spinach, Vermentino Reduction and a Herb Risotto Cake ($36), and was disappointed in the texture of the veal itself and the breading. The herb risotto cake was also very bland and dry. The reduction had nice flavor, but really that was the only redeeming factor of this dish. For that price point, no thank you.

Service continued to be only average throughout the meal.

I've certainly heard that it "isn't the same" or "isn't as good" since Chef Luca Sema left, but what are your thoughts? I felt let down.

2198 Murray Hill Road
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 721-0300

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Astoria Market and Cafe

It's been quite a while since Astoria Cafe and Market opened, but Mr. H and I finally made it there recently.
Its Mediterranean flair is reflected not only on the menu, but also in the small market---focused on olives...
...cheese and meats, dried pastas and beans, sauces... and more. It's not a huge selection, but you can grab a few items for a meal and pick up wine to-go.
But in the center of the market, there is a large area of open cafe seating.

We shared the Calamari Frito ($13) with Spanish Calamari Fried Crisp in Peanut Oil, served with Mediterranean Olive Salad and Honey-Harissa Glaze. The glaze and olive salad made it a unique, and tasty (bit spicy), version, and the portion was generous enough for sharing.
We also shared the Baked Brie en Croute Belletoile ($14) with Triple Cream Brie Topped with Fig Jam and Fresh Thyme and wrapped in Phyllo and finished with Honey and Crushed Pistachios. You can never go wrong with baked brie! I loved the crushed pistachios with it.
Then we shared two small plates for the next course. Sea Scallops ($16) with Seared Maine Diver Sea Scallops with a Saute of Shallots, Pancetta, Honey, Thyme and Apple Cider and served over Creamy White Cheddar Polenta. The polenta and crispy bacon were a great pairing with the scallops!
We also split the Lamb T-bone ($15) with a Grilled 4 oz. Ohio Domestic Loin Chop with Italian Salsa Verde, Sweet Balsamic Glaze and Truffle-Mascarpone Fingerling Potatoes. The meat was seasoned and cooked perfectly, and I enjoyed the salsa verde with it. The potatoes were a tad under-cooked at times, but the flavor was good.
While we really enjoyed the food, and it's a great menu for sharing a bunch of smaller bites, the atmosphere wasn't what I had hoped. It was bright and loud, with a lot of foot traffic past our table. The service seemed a bit unorganized and hurried, but maybe it was just an off night. I'd like to give brunch a try.

There is a small parking lot down the side street next to the cafe, in case you can't find street parking in front. The menu isn't very family-friendly, in my opinion.

If you've been, what are your thoughts beyond the quality of the food?

Astoria Market and Cafe
5417 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 266-0834