Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt {the best way to say thank you}

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Southern Hospitality is real.

I recently returned from a four day business trip to Dallas to visit my client and I had a blast!  This trip was just what I needed to remind myself that making friends isn’t this difficult everywhere and there really is more to life than just sitting in traffic on I-95 every day, going to whole foods solely out of boredom and spending hours at the gym because I have nothing else planned (and I want a killer beach bod, duhhh!)

I spent several days last week working hard and spending much needed face time with the awesome people I email back and forth with and talk to on the phone every day. I had some great meals, especially the last night when a group of us went out for happy hour and then to this awesome Tex-Mex restaurant called Blue Goose Cantina. I had steak fajitas which were delicious! I think the best part of the dinner, aside from eating everyone else’s food and tons and tons of laughter, was the free dessert we got (hey the waitress asked if it was someone’s Birthday and how could we say no to that?!) Mini-Sopapillas (similar to Churros) served with honey and topped with whipped Cream and cinnamon Sugar. Holy cow…you have no idea how good this was. I meant to take a picture of it by itself but only got as far as the group picture. And quite frankly after this group picture we devoured it. All of it.

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After a week of hard work and tons of laughs, I’m home and find myself missing the southern hospitality. Sometimes I forget how easy it really is, or  how little effort it should be to make friends. And how far a simple smile exchange or small talk with a stranger can take you.

So I decided to bake cookies to say thank you to my Dallas friends for making me feel so warm and welcome. And what a better way to say thank you than to send a batch of freshly baked cookies with chunks of gooey dark chocolate and peanut butter topped with sea salt for the perfect bite of sweet and salty and melty chocolate goodness. And the best part, this is actually a normal cookie recipe and I didn’t even attempt to substitute applesauce for butter! Woohooo!

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Arugula Salad with Pan-Seared Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts and Strawberries

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Happy Monday!

I’m recovering from a weekend of amazing seafood, a healthy cookout, cold beers, freckles and oddly-shaped sunburn, a perfect beach day, dancing until I couldn’t feel my feet and late night snacking on pickles, salsa and chips, Ben and Jerry’s, hummus and carrots and a Wawa turkey hoagie. Oh and a horse and carriage smashing into the passenger side of my car and basically taking off the door and almost my friend’s toe.  Yes…that really happened.

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But after a 6 hour delay and thanks to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, we finally were able to start the weekend off right at the Raw Bar at the Lobster House in Cape May, NJ. We ordered tons of oysters and crab, including the best crab soup you’ll ever have. Typically we stick with stone crab (pictured above) but we were still so hungry so I decided to order us steamed hot & spicy crab. I didn’t realize they’d come out looking like this, however:

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Kinda cute, eh?

Gia didn’t seem to think so.

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It was a perfect beach weekend with beautiful weather and it was really nice to catch up with Gia. We used to be roommates in Philadelphia and for the past five summers we’ve made it tradition to have several girls’ getaways down the shore.

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Saturday night we had a cookout and made awesome Quinoa veggie burgers with arugula, goat cheese and pickled onions (recipe to come soon), a kale salad and corn on the cob.

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I don’t think we had enough food for the two of us, do you?

But alas, the beach weekend is over and it’s back to reality for a few days which means back to clean eating. To me that means smoothies, lots of fruit and veggies and salads.  I decided to spice up my normal daily salad a bit and made for you an Aurugula Salad with Pan-Seared Goat Cheese, Candied Walnuts and Strawberries. The nuttiness of the arugula paired with delicious fresh strawberries and warm goat cheese with easy homemade candied walnuts it’s more than enough to get you excited for your Monday lunch or dinner. Drizzle on top a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar and you’ve got yourself a delicious salad surely to get you through a Monday back to reality after an awesome weekend. And so easy to make, you can sear the goat cheese and candy the walnuts on a Sunday night and have to eat throughout the week.

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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.