Cream Cheese and Nutella Pancakes {the best pancakes you’ll ever have, inspired by Valencia Luncheria}

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Yes, that’s right…Cream Cheese and Nutella. All in one bite. All in one pancake.

This morning I made the best pancakes I’ve ever had. And I just had to share it with you right away!

These pancakes are inspired by one of my favorite treats at a restaurant down the street from me in Norwalk, CT called Valencia Luncheria.

Valencia is known for their arepas and empanadas. I actually first came across this place the night I moved into my current apartment in Norwalk, CT. I had just sat down after moving all day and turned on the TV to, what else of course, Food Network. Diner, Drive-Ins and Dives was on and Guy happened to be at this place in Norwalk. What a coincidence! I knew after watching the episode that I just had to go. And the next morning that’s exactly where I ended up. Less than half a mile away to the best thing that has happened to me since moving here, Valencia Luncheria.

When you walk into Valencia you feel like you’re stepping off of the beach. Leading up to the restaurant is a sand-covered pathway and tiki torches that make you want to put on a Hawaiian skirt and do the hula. Well, maybe that’s just me. But I really would have because that’s how happy I always am after leaving this place. The decor is very similar to the theme of the restaurant, Venezuelan beach food.

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Valencia is known for their arepas. In case you’re not familiar with an arepa, it is basically a fried open-faced corn cake that can be filled with just about any combination. My favorite combinations are the “Real Deal” which is chorizo and mozzarella and I also love the “Chef “which is chipotle jalapeno cheese steak (Philly represent, what what). Their guacamole is also to die for along with their super fresh ceviche. However, Saturday and Sunday mornings are the absolute best time to check out Valencia because that’s when they have their Bloody Mary bar! Oh my goodness. They have four different kinds of tomato mixtures you can choose from, from mild to Italian to spicy, and they also have just about everything imaginable you can put into your Bloody Mary, from bacon on a stick (my fav), to sweet potatoes, olives, pickles, blocks of cheddar cheese, shrimp…just about anything! It’s truly a reason in itself to drag yourself out of bed early on a Saturday or Sunday morning. And they also make this ridiculous green secret sauce they bring out to every table. They won’t tell you what’s in it but all I can tell you is it’s creamy like an avocado, it has a kick of garlic, there’s definitely cilantro and one day it may accidentally end up falling into my purse…just saying!

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But, what I haven’t told you about yet is my absolute FAVORITE thing on their menu. Their cream cheese and Nutella empanada. A perfect combination of cream cheese and Nutella, fried in an empanada and sprinkled with powdered sugar. I usually can only get through a couple of bites at this point of the meal but I make it happen and I am always SO glad I do. And this cream cheese and Nutella empanada is exactly what inspired me to make these pancakes.

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The key to these pancakes is to stick the cream cheese in the freezer the night before. This will ensure you actually get chunks of cream cheese in every bite. Otherwise I have found if not frozen, the cream cheese will bake into the pancake and you won’t get the oozy-goodness chunks of cream cheese in each and every bite.

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And the Nutella topping adds a richness that when paired with the cream cheese, just like in the empanadas, is a crazy good mouthful that makes you keep wanting more. So good, you won’t be able to stop eating. The entire stack. Like I did. And for added texture, I sprinkled chopped walnuts on top for a nice crunch. You can use any nut you prefer, but walnuts were all I had. Make this for your boyfriend, girlfriend, mom, dad, aunt, uncle, cousin, brother, sister, husband, wife, friend, noisy neighbor who has a coughing problem (hey- that’s not a bad idea!) and they will surely love you forever. And hopefully stop coughing…

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My 25th birthday weekend in Vegas…aka how I ate my way through Vegas

I’m back!

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And unfortunately I’m not $100,000 richer.

But I did spend 5 days this week in my favorite city celebrating my 25th Birthday. I know I know…you think I’m crazy, right? Why would anyone consider Vegas to be one of their favorite cities? When you think of Vegas you probably think of drunks, people with gambling problems, groups of guys/girls looking to have a good time, bachelors and bachelorettes looking to have one last weekend of “freedom”, UFC fighters, Celine Dion, Donnie & Marie, strippers and hookers, extremely over-priced drinks and wolfpacks. But I don’t see Vegas as any of those. Well, ok…there are a lot of drunks, and there are a TON of bachelors and bachelorettes…and married men without their wedding rings…and hookers…and drinks that are WAY too expensive…and super skinny girls everywhere. But ANYWAY. I see Vegas as the food capital of the US. While most people plan vacations around beaches, famous sights to see and beautiful weather, I plan my vacations around food. And that is why Vegas is my favorite city.

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Let’s start out with the top meal and restaurant of the trip, N9ne Steakhouse. My goodness, Chef Barry Dekake is a mastermind. Is he single?

But really, look at that surf and turf. Filet Mignon, Maine Lobster, White Truffle Aoili. So rich, so tender…so many perfect flavors and textures in one bite.

But really, did you think I was going to go there without getting my favorite appetizer?

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If you thought I would, then you don’t know me very well.

N9ne’s Ahi Tuna Tartare is one of the best I’ve ever had.

I ACTUALLY almost thought about skipping the tuna. I know I know…how could I?  Well, I went on this trip with my good friend Julia, my Sophomore year roommate in college. And on my birthday that year we had tuna tartare at a restaurant in Philadelphia. The next night we were both deathly ill with Salmonella poisoning…and for 4 days after. So, needless to say, the last time I had tuna, with Julia, on my birthday… was not a great experience. BUT, that was not the case this birthday, 5 years later. We DEVOURED the crap out of that tuna and it was so fresh and so worth it.

We also had a salad…which was excellent. But really, who cares about salad when we can skip right to dessert.

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Now at this point, I was already in a food coma. And 4 drinks in. And 2 shots in. But I would never let that get in the way of s’mores. I love s’mores so much I make them at home over the gas stove. And set the smoke detector off. I’m serious. S’mores is my favorite dessert. Now typically with s’mores you take  a graham cracker, roast a marshmallow, stick a piece of chocolate on top and close the sandwich with another graham cracker. Well, of course N9ne wouldn’t make it THAT simple. They use the most decadent wonderful chocolate ganache I’ve ever had. And yes, we finished it. All of it. Marshmallow all over, chocolate stuck in my teeth. I think there was even marshmallow in my hair (would you expect anything less)?  And we maybe had Birthday shots with Pharrell?

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We also stopped by another one of my favorite places called Jean Phllippe at the Aria. They have delicious pastries and desserts. We split a trio of all things I can’t remember except for the peanut butter chocolate lollipop. Mmmm peanut butter.

And of course, we found our way to the buffet.

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  Who doesn’t eat eggs, dumplings, pizza, bruchetta, tomato and basil, garlic and olives, tacos, chocolate covered marshmallows, seaweed salad, wings, sushi, tuna tartare, pork buns and cupcakes at 10:30 am?

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Another highlight was Wazuzu, an Asian restaurant in the Wynn. Wazuzu is known for their Drunken Noodles that was featured on the Food Network’s Best thing I Ever Ate. So naturally, that’s what we ordered. It was decent, but not the best thing I ever ate. However, I can share with you the BEST chocolate bar I ever ate…

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Yep, that’s right. A maple bacon chocolate bar. With bonfire smoked sea salt. Oh my goodness…you have got to go buy this. Whole foods sells them. I know because I’ve already stocked up…

In summary, key things I’ve learned on this trip:

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I love bottomless mimosas.

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An extra $30/bucks a night is SO worth an upgraded panoramic suite on the 59th floor.

Other things I learned on this trip:

I’m best at 3 card poker after I’ve been drinking for hours. ALWAYS bet the ante. Just because the ball landed on red three times in a row doesn’t mean it will land on black the fourth time. A dollar in a penny slot can last an hour. Lil Jon gives out free champagne…bottles. SPF 55 will not make me tan. Not putting on any sunscreen will not make me tan either…well…maybe 5 days later after the sunburn peels. XS is the best nightclub by far in Vegas. Don’t go there sober. Julia is the best at picking out musical birthday cards. I’m really good at dancing to them.  A $12 bud light at the pool party will not get you drunk enough to enjoy them.  It takes an hour to walk to the hotel next door. I choose ice cream over men at 5:30 am. A pitcher of margarita + pool party + 100 degree weather is not a good idea. Drinking for 4 days straight on a total of 9 hours of sleep WILL get you sick. Alexis from the Real Housewives of OC is miserable. Pharrell’s name is not pronounced like Colin Farrell. In my next life I’m Sophia the restaurateur.

P.S.- my grandmother makes the best birthday cakes

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Until next time, Vegas.